Upside-Down Narratives: Paris Attack Targeted Muslims, Not Kurds

January 16, 2023

The anti-Muslim and xenophobic perpetrator openly attacked the “Ahmet” component of the Ahmet Kaya Kurdish Cultural Center.
Supporters of the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, US and EU, clash with French Riot Police as violence broke out after a gunman opened fire, killing at least three people and injuring four others, while a suspect had been arrested, in France on December 23, 2022. Photo by Anadolu Images


n Friday, December 23, 2022, three people were killed and three others were injured in an armed attack on the Ahmet Kaya Cultural Center on Rue d’Enghien in the 10th arrondissement of Paris. The 69-year-old suspect was first arrested and then rushed to hospital. He was detained a day later. The suspect, named William M., is a retired mechanic with a long criminal record.

According to the statements by the authorities to the French press, the suspect was previously found guilty of an armed attack in the Seine-Saint-Denis region, a suburb of Paris, where heavily populated by Muslims. Later, his conviction was overturned on appeal. William M. was also found guilty of acts such as slashing with a knife and destroying immigrants’ tents in a racist attack against immigrants last year. However, the prosecutor’s office determined that the perpetrator was not motivated by extremist ideology, which is probably why he was released on bail earlier in December 2022.

According to the statement by French Prosecutor Laure Beccuau, the 69-year-old suspect “had a pathological hatred of foreigners, suffered depression, and had suicidal tendencies.” The suspect spent nearly a day in a psychiatric hospital before being brought back into police custody on Sunday evening, AFP reported. His father explained, “My son is mad!” When talking about the attack on television, the emphasis was placed on the suspect’s “madness” in capital letters with titles such as “The Suspect Is at the Psychiatric Unit.”

Did this discourse surprise anyone? Whenever there is a terrorist attack, today, if the perpetrator is European, he is portrayed as “mad,” but if he is Muslim, he is depicted as a “terrorist” who is mentally sound and in full command of his actions. As for the representation of the criminal act, the first is called an “attack” while the second is “terrorism.”

In Norway, for example, Anders Behring Breivik, who was on trial for the murder of 77 people, was also labeled “mad.” In his defense, he said that his actions were “a defense” against Islam, which he claimed was taking over Europe. He explained that this was not a crime, and that he was defending Norway against multiculturalism. Today, the language of politics adopts cultural racism instead of ethnicity-based racism. This is not limited to the far right, but permeates the center-right and center-left parties in Europe.

With French President Emmanuel Macron’s early practices, hostility towards Muslims in France gained legitimacy like nowhere else in Europe. It is enough to take a look at the documents prepared by the Macron government, namely “Reinforcing Republican Principles” and the “Imam Charter.”

The French state stigmatized Muslims as a separate entity based on cultural nationalism and even racism, and defined Islam as a threat to French identity. According to a report published in the French newspaper Libération, there have been 20 attacks, both major and minor, with racist motives in France since September 2022. These, of course, are only the ones recorded. If the suspect had not been involved in this latest attack, despite his criminal record, he would not have made the news.

In his statement, the suspect explained that he originally wanted to carry out an attack in Seine-Saint-Denis, north of Paris, an area with a dense immigrant population, but gave up on the grounds that there were few people around and the way he dressed made it difficult for him to hide his gun. Instead, he went to the Seine Denis neighborhood of Strasbourg, in the heart of Paris, where Kurdish, Turkish, and Arab immigrants have their shops. When he saw the “Ahmet” of the “Ahmet Kaya Kurdish Cultural Center” in the 10th district, he attacked!

Muslims commonly name their children Ahmet or Mehmet, sometimes also Muhammad based on the Prophet of Islam. It is no secret that these names create a handicap in terms of finding a job in France, including in prestigious companies of world-renowned brands.

Ahmet Kaya was a well-liked musician and singer in Turkey who was given an award in the field of music at the Presidential Culture and Art Grand Awards on October 28, 2013. Whenever Turkey’s President Erdoğan mentions Ahmet Kaya, his eyes are filled with tears.  Kaya had to leave Turkey and move to France on June 16, 1999 following an unfortunate incident.

On February 10, 1999, the Magazine Journalists Association gave Kaya the “Best Artist of the Year” award. At the ceremony, Kaya talked about his new album, saying, “I will sing a Kurdish song and shoot a music video for it. I know that there are TV broadcasters among us who have the courage to broadcast it. But I don’t know how they will settle accounts with the people of Turkey if they do not broadcast it.” Thereupon, the guests began to swear and throw spoons and forks at him, and started singing the “Tenth Anniversary March,” which has become a Kemalist anthem. After various lawsuits, Ahmet Kaya left for France where he died on November 16, 2000 in his home in Port de Versailles, Paris, as a result of a heart attack.

Kaya stood by Tayyip Erdoğan when he was banned from politics in Turkey. Kaya did not see Erdoğan become prime minister and later president. Erdoğan initiated the Resolution Process with the statement, “We will stop this bloodshed, put an end to tears, and raise Turkey with its 81 provinces. If it’s about drinking hemlock [a type of poison], I’ll drink it too” so that children do not go to the mountains and die. Unfortunately, the Resolution Process did not find a response due to the influence of Western states on the PKK. But, fortunately, today, Turkey is no longer a country of prohibitions for Kurds as it was when Ahmet Kaya had to leave it behind.

According to the news published in the French press, the Ahmet Kaya Kurdish Cultural Center is a place under the control of people close to the PKK today. French police conducted a search there in February 2007 and arrested 13 people for allegedly financing terrorism in an “organized gang” in the Paris area. In 2014, the center was ordered to be closed down by the Supreme Court due to financing terrorist activities. At the time, the center remained open as a result of large demonstrations in support of appealing this decision. Some may know that the PKK collects racket from Kurdish shopkeepers in Paris, and if they do not, their security is imperiled. Since the 1990s, this is such a commonplace occurrence that it often occurs in front of customers.

William M. attacked with apparent anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant motivations, but in this post-truth age, which has been strengthened by social media since the 2000s, the PKK and its media organs as well as French politicians turned the narrative into an “anti-Kurdish” attack. The PKK, which is defined as a terrorist organization by Europe but protected by many European countries including France, was once again presented by French politicians and media as the representative of all Kurds. Sadly, no one emphasized the real anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant motive of the attack.

In his message, Macron said, “The Kurds of France were the target of a heinous attack in the heart of Paris. Our thoughts are with the victims, the people struggling for their lives, their families, and loved ones.” Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State, tweeted “My thoughts are with the Kurdish community and the French on this sad day.” French politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who was a member of the National Assembly for the 4th constituency of Bouches-du-Rhône from 2017 to 2022 and who narrowly missed continuing on to the second round in French Presidential Election in 2022, said he “does not believe in coincidence when it comes to the assassination of Kurds in Paris.”

PKK media organs and organizations in Europe called on their sympathizers to protest in Place de la République immediately after the incident. Politicians participating in the protests marched and gave speeches, accompanied by PKK flags and Abdullah Öcalan’s posters. Some of the protesters, who had gathered from all over Europe, engaged in violence, forcing the police to intervene.

The statement by the police unions reacted to the violence by saying, “In the heart of Paris and Marseille, protesters burned cars, smashed stones and threw them here and there, and 53 police officers were injured on Christmas Day.” Indeed, the situation was summarized in Kurdish and French from the social media account of Sezai Temelli, a HDP MP in Turkey and former HDP Co-Chair, as follows: “Paris is on fire, let it burn!” Temelli wrote this comment, which he later deleted, as a reply to a social media post by journalist Clement Lanot, who wrote under a photo of a burning car, “There are very violent events taking place during the assembly of the Kurds. Burnt cars, bullets and tear gas.” It wasn’t just Paris – reality itself was turned upside down!

The anti-Muslim and xenophobic perpetrator openly attacked the “Ahmet” component of the Ahmet Kaya Kurdish Cultural Center. But even this attack, which caused the death of three people and the injury of three others and was apparently motivated by racist and anti-Muslim motives, was exploited and dismissed on the premise of the conflict between Turkey and the YPG, the Syrian branch of the PKK and France’s ally. Reality is turned upside down and hostility towards Muslims is turned into “enemy of Kurds.” Yet, for William M. and his like, it doesn’t matter whether the target is Kurdish, Turkish, or Arab, providing the target is Muslim.

Kılıçkaya worked as a journalist for Cumhuriyet and Milliyet newspapers. In 1992 she moved to Paris and completed her studies in International Relations. After returning to Turkey in 2009, Kılıçkaya started working for Habertürk. In 2016, she formed a three-part documentary on DAESH.