Pundits are already calling Friday’s events the French Sept. 11. But the attacks on the World Trade Center were not carried out by Americans, whereas it’s entirely possible that the men who invaded the Bataclan were “homegrown” terrorists. Virtually every recent act of terrorism on French soil, including the 2012 attacks in Toulouse that targeted a Jewish day school, has been carried out by French nationals or long-time French residents.
What is it about the French air and water, one might well wonder, that gives rise to such extreme discontent? There is no easy answer. France has a larger Muslim population than other European countries. It colonized large swaths of the Maghreb, and relationships between former colonial subjects and former conquerors are always complicated. One problem is the feeling that belonging should be possible, but is in practice out of reach.