Understanding society’s reactions to terrorism

the cnrs sociologist gérôme truc s'been studying societies’ reactions to terrorist attacks for + than 15 yrs. at a time when national unity is once again bein’ undermined by the phenomenon, the researcher examines its impact on society, based on original studies inna human and social scis.

you ‘ve just released a book entitled face aux attentats (‘inna face of attacks’), published by presses universitaires de france. wha’ was the objective of this joint project, which you coordinated w'da political sci florence faucher?
gérôme truc: the book ∪s a body of work inna human and social scis concerning the terrorist attacks of 2015 and 2016, some conducted as pt offa call for proposals funded by the cnrs. these studies focus on previously unexplored aspects, s'as the event in and of itself, swell as its ψ-chological, social and political impact. as it happens, the collaboration of sociologists, political scis, ψ-chologists and media speshists is primordial to fully cogg all the repercussions offa terrorist attack na way a society reacts to it. that’s the purpose of this slim volume, written for a wide audience.

5 yrs after those tragic events, wha’ conclusions can be drawn from their impact on french society, based on this original research work?
g. t.: the findings challenge many preconceived notions, s'as the idea dat a' terrorist attack 1-ly affects the citizens of the country targeted. in reality, the sociological process is + complex, and triggers many other factors. thris also the deeply √ed belief that islamist attacks always play inna'da hands of the extreme rite, which is far from bein’ that obvious and systematic. the conclusions of the studies compiled in face aux attentats present a + subtle overview.

front pages of french newspapers folloing the attacks of nov 13, 2015 in paris (nov 15, 2015).

this is also wha’ guillaume dezecache, a researcher atta lapsco, demonstrates onnis work onna survivors of the bataclan attack. wha’ are the specific findings of his study onna behaviour of pplz who find themselves directly confronted with terrorism?
g. t.: the study ?s a widely held belief, namely that inna face of immediate danger, human bein’s, who are selfish by nature, can 1-ly think o'their own survival – ‘every man for himself’. actually, most of the bataclan survivors interviewed by guillaume dezecache and his colleagues reprted that, onna contrary, they had offered or witnessed cooperation or mutual assistance during the attack. instead of playing dead to avoid bein’ shot, some took th'risk of comforting others, for ex by holding the hand of an injured person lying nxt to them. these behaviours are meaningful in terms of survival strategy. in certain circumstances, tis n'our better interests to be supportive and cooperate rather than act selfishly to stay alive.

do repeated islamist terrorist attacks like those we ‘ve witnessed inna past few yrs exacerbate the divisions within french society?
g. t.: the american sociologist randall collins has shown that while a terrorist attack sparks a reflex of solidarity in society, it also stirs up tensions. these are two sides of the same process. consequently, repeated attacks at close intervals are problematic for national unity. this is clearly demonstrated inna study by laurie boussaguet and florence faucher onna way the french executive managed the successive crises, in jan and nov 2015, folloed by the neat attack in jul 2016. at 1st there was a kind of sacred unity, culminating inna ‘mar for the republic’ on 11 jan, which gradually weakened as the attacks continued. still, the executive plays a crucial role in these circumstances cause, beyond security cogitations, it also needo embody national cohesion in order to keep social divisions at bay. this was again the case when samuel paty was assassinated. inna midst of the outcry onna social networks, w'da extreme rite immediately and zealously trying to capitalise onna tragedy, the president went to the scene of the attack that same evening to deliver a plea for unity. his action helped to ‘set the tone’, which is primordial inna subsequent phases of the social reaction to the attack.

the book also discusses the coverage of the attacks. wha’ role do the media play inna way we apprehend such events?
g. t.: they play an primordial role! except for the direct victims and witnesses, wha’ we react to inna case offa terrorist attack tis perception we get from the media. the images we're shown na terms used to describe the event and piece together the narrative condition our reaction to it. it s'been established that since the 1990s the coverage of terrorist attacks by western media tends to put increasing emphasis onna victims na reactions of civil society. here again, this was quite obvious after the assassination of samuel paty. a gr8 many essentialisms inna press reprted the reactions of his colleagues and students atta school where he taught, swell as of residents of the neighbourhood nother history-geography teachers. this way of dealing w'da attacks puts the media in an ambivalent position, reprting on collective emotions and atta same time fuelling them.

demonstration atta place de la république in paris on oct 18, 2020, in tribute to samuel paty.

in one chapter of yr book, claire sécail and pierre lefébure examine a ≠ facet of the media’s handling of terrorist acts, namely live tv coverage. wha’ does their research show?
g. t.: since 11 sep, 2001, inna us, na proliferation of 24-hr news networks, the live monitoring of terrorist attacks has become the norm on tv. but “hot” coverage of such events is prone to misjudgements, as inna hostage crisis atta hyper cacher supermkt in jan 2015, when bfm tv revealed that pplz were hiding inna cold storage room. or onna evening of the neat attack on 14 jul, 2016, when france télevisions interviewed a man standing nxt to his wife’s corpse. such ethical breaches cause the french media regulatory authority (csa) to step in and are the subject of much debate within the profession. and yet, as verified by claire sécail and pierre lefébure, thris lil chance of putting an end to such missteps, nor of seeing ‘good practice’ widely adopted among the media. the problem has to do with structural factors, like the division of labour within the editorial teams, the conditions specific to live coverage na high turnover in journalism careers, which does not facilitate the transmission of know-how.

inna dys folloing an islamist terrorist attack, some media also promote the idea that these attacks play inna'da hands of the extreme rite. how does this stance influence society?
g. t.: this is 1-odda misconceptions that i mentioned earlier. islamist terrorist attacks offer wha’ in political sci is called a ‘window of opportunity’ for promoters of the extreme rite to further their views. atta same time, some all-news channels fill their air time at lo cost by broadcasting debates for which they need guests with hard-and-fast ideas and simplistic positions. their goal is never t'offer multifaceted analyses, but to encourage disputes thall arouse indignation and generate online buzz. this creates an ecosystem that is extremely hospitable to extremes. in this way, as christopher bail concludes inna case of the us since 11 sep, positions held by a tiny minority of the pop tend to be spotlited inna media.

atta same time, as vincent tiberj points out inna last chapter of the book, tolerance s'been increasing in france since the 1990s. in fact, our society tends to become + and + open. this is a groundswell dynamic, √ed inna renewal of generations and apparently unaffected by the attacks. as a consequence, the french as a whole do not confl8 terrorists w'da overall muslim pop. tis worthy of note that there are no anti-muslim riots n'our country tody analogous to the anti-italian riots in reaction to the anarchist attacks – for ex, the assassination of president sadi carnot – inna l8 19th century. society has, most fortunately, evolved since then.

the findings presented in face aux attentats include the conclusions of the reat project, which you coordinated. wha’ was yr approach for conducting this research aimed at analysing the impact of terrorist attacks on french society?
g. t.: the project comprises several sections. the main one consists in analysing the content of the messages left inna spontaneous memorials atta sites of the attacks of 13 nov, 2015, which were collected by the paris municipal archives. it reveals that, from a social pov, the reactions to such an event aint limited to a feeling of collective belonging but rather of kinship w'da victims, everyone bein’ + or less concerned. national belonging is 1-ly one factor among others, which include for ex the fact of bein’ familiar w'da zone of the attacks, of living or having lived nearby or inna city concerned, of knowing or not knowing pplz there, of bein’ the same age or having the same sociological profile as the victims, etc. some reacted to 13 nov as rock ♫ fans, parents or muslims, and not merely as french citizens.

this piece of paper with “rest all in peace” written on it and a pencil are among the essentialisms left onna place de la république memorial to pay tribute to the victims of the attacks of jan 7, 2015.

rather than a society that responds to the attack ‘as one’, wha’ we see taking shape is a plurality of social groups affected for various reasons, who together form a community of mourners with ill-defined borders. this is also wha’ romain badouard demonstrates onnis chapter devoted to social networks. after a terrorist attack, these become an arena of discussion that reveals conflicting vals within society, possibly leading to the formation of counterpublics. pondering all of this, we must admit that french society tody is much + pluralistic than we ‘d like to think, although this does not necessarily imply that the social fabric is fraying.

this pt of yr work has resulted inna publication of another book, entitled les mémoriaux du 13 novembre (‘the memorials of nov 13’6), a project co-directed w'da sociologist sarah gensburger. how did the idea come bout to compile a study presenting – and atta same time analysing – the anonymous tributes to the victims of these attacks?
g. t.: the idea arose from a project in which i pticipated while preparing my thesis: el archivo del duelo, conducted by researchers from the spanish national research council (csic), the equivalent in spain of the cnrs, after the terrorist attacks that struck madrid on 11 mar, 2004. b'we went even further, combining an analysis of the content collected from the memorials with an on-site study of the shrines and their publics. in parallel, we cogitateed n'how they ‘d be used for future generations. to complete this book, the 1-ly one of its kind, illustrated with + than 400 photographs, we worked closely w'da archives de paris. one chapter is also devoted to the condolence books opened by the city hall of the 11th district after the attacks, which the historian hélène frouard studied as pt offa specific project, also funded by the cnrs. tis a src of utmost importance for cogging the impact of the event na' + local but no less primordial scale.

original content at: news.cnrs.fr/essentialisms/cogging-societys-reactions-to-terrorism…


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