The near-simultaneous attacks in Paris that killed at least 128 people were an “act of war” organised by the Islamic State (IS) militant group, French President Francois Hollande says. I’m weighing the truth value of that proposition this morning. An act of war involves an act of aggression, normally by military forces, by one country against another country with which it is nominally at peace.
Were the attacks in Paris yesterday carried out by military forces? News reports so far describe eight attackers, all of whom are now dead. While I’ve seen reports of Egyptian and Syrian passports found, there has as of yet been no suggestion the attackers were an Egyptian or Syrian military unit. Were the attackers the vanguard of an attacking ISIS military force?
Is ISIS a country? It seems more accurately described as an armed group which at the moment controls a great deal of territory in the countries of Iraq and Syria.
Is France nominally at peace with ISIS? France has in fact been bombing ISIS in Iraq and in Syria (though one does not read of France bombing the “country of ISIS”).
While ISIS shooting people at bars, restaurants, a concert, and a football match in France is terrible, I don’t believe the event is accurately described as an “act of war.” As the US “war on terror” grinds through its second decade the terms we use to describe violence matter. Perhaps France must respond to an attack by criminals, or terrorists, yes, but to an attack by another state? This seems hyperbole more useful for political posturing than an accurate imagining of present circumstances.