November 2015

All of us at Choices are struggling to understand the tragic and terrible events that happened in Paris on November 13, 2015. The many dimensions and the diverging opinions about the events make approaching the tragedy all the more daunting. We realize that teachers who want their students to consider these events in a thoughtful and constructive way are seeking resources for themselves and their students. We have compiled an annotated list of online sources that may be helpful for approaching some key aspects of the crisis.

The Events

What happened in Paris on November 13, 2015?
The Washington Post article What we now know about the Paris attacks and the hunt for the attackers gives an overview of the events and maps where they happened, who was involved, and how people have reacted.

Lesson: The Learning Network of the New York Times produced a lesson, News Q’s | Attacks in Paris, that guides students through the events. The lesson has students answer a selection of questions about articles provided.

Who were the victims? 
France 24 has released an article and video called A look at some of the French victims of the Paris attacks that highlights some of the many victims. More victims’ stories can be found on the Washington Post. A Business Insider graphic shows the nineteen countries from which the 129 victims who lost their lives came.

New York Times Video features the accounts of two survivors—Francois Granier and Gauthier. These videos are detailed and may be upsetting to watch.

How can I keep up-to-date on the situation? 
Most news sources have pages dedicated to coverage of events surrounding the attacks in Paris. The following websites are among those useful for monitoring the situation.

Al Jazeera page: Paris Attacks

BBC page: Paris Attacks: Latest Updates

New York Times page: Attacks in Paris

CNN page: Paris Terror Attacks

Why is it important to understand France’s relationship with its Muslim population? 
France has the highest population percentage of Muslims (7.5%) of all EU countries, according to the Pew Research Center’s 5 facts about the Muslim population in Europe. In addition, France’s enforcement of radical secularism, referred to as la laicité, has led to a clash of cultural traditions and understandings of human rights.

La laicité challenges some of the Muslim population’s desire to publicly practice their faith. For example, France was the first country in Europe to pass a ban on the full-face veil in public.

Media Coverage

Why has media attention given to the Paris attacks been controversial?
The New York Times article, Beirut, Also the Site of Deadly Attacks, Feels Forgotten, addresses the disparity in media coverage of the attacks in Paris, given other recent attacks in Beirut, Lebanon, which happened one day prior. ISIS claimed responsibility for the Beirut attacks, which killed 43 people and wounded 239. Similar criticism has also arisen for the failure to adequately cover attacks in Baghdad, Iraq this weekend, as well as events in the past.

The BBC article, Millions are sharing attack stories that aren’t about Paris, explains how controversy about media coverage has resulted in people highlighting other events on social media and how this has caused confusion.

Syrian Civil War

What is happening in Syria? 
The terror attacks in Paris can be traced to the war and political events in Syria. The BBC article, Syria: The story of the conflict, provides a brief overview of the conflicts in Syria that began in 2011.

Vox’s video, Syria’s War: Who is Fighting and Why, outlines the conflict using graphics, maps, and narration that are especially helpful for those with little background on Syria.

How have the attacks affected Syrian refugees?
The events in Paris have raised questions, both internationally and domestically, about how to respond to the refugee crisis that has driven millions of refugees from Syria.

After the attacks, France closed its borders. The Washington Post article, What did it really mean when France closed its borders?, explains the reasoning and logistics involved.

Lesson: In the Choices Program’s Teaching With the News Lesson, Refugee Stories: Mapping a Crisis, students analyze data and personal accounts from refugees in order to better understand the scope of the refugee crisis and weigh the international response.

Who was responsible for the attacks?
The group ISIS claimed responsibility for the terror attacks in Paris, as well as for a string of other attacks.

The article The Manhunt for the Paris Attackers from the New York Times presents the known information on each of the attackers in Paris and illustrates their connections to ISIS.

For an up-to-date collection of resources pertaining to ISIS, you may wish to visit the PBS page ISIS: What We Know. Offering a detailed introduction to ISIS, The Islamic State by the Council on Foreign Relations may be a useful resource for teachers and advanced students. For a more basic introduction to the origins, history, goals, and tactics of ISIS, Vox’s 18 Things About ISIS You Need to Know may be a good place to start.

The New York Times page ISIS Is Likely Responsible for Nearly 1,000 Civilian Deaths Outside Iraq and Syria provides infographics that show ISIS attacks around the world.

Lesson: The free Teaching with the News Lesson from the Choices Program, ISIS: A New Threat, helps students further assess the role of ISIS in the world by asking students to interpret political cartoons and engaging them in conversation about their analyses.


Where can I get an overview of the issue of terrorism?
The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism conducts scientific studies of the causes and human consequences of terrorism in the United States and around the world. Educational resources, a searchable database of terrorist attacks since 1970, and numerous reports are available.

The Council on Foreign Relations has resources in which experts explore many aspects of terrorism.

Responding to Terrorism: Challenges for Democracy, a Choices Program curriculum unit, helps students consider fundamental questions that shape responses to terrorism. It focuses on how the United States responded to the attacks on September 11, 2001 and explores other issues related to terrorism up until 2011.

International Politics and Responses

What are the challenges of building an international response to ISIS?
This article by Olivier Roy, The Attacks in Paris Reveal the Strategic Limits of ISIS argues that international and local coalitions against ISIS are hindered by conflicting interests. At the same time, ISIS’s strategy of global terrorism will also fail. He sees a long struggle.

Roger D. Petersen takes a different view from Olivier Roy. In his article In Syria, Politics Can Be More Effective Than Military Action, he argues that events in Paris change the politics, and make possible the critical, but messy, alliances necessary to eliminate ISIS.

How have the attacks affected U.S. views on asylum and immigration?
Some people believe that the United States should not accept any asylum seekers from Syria, arguing that events in France have proven the risk in doing so. An article from Reuters, U.S. Republicans seek to shut door on Syrian refugees after Paris, explores how some politicians aim to reject refugees seeking asylum. Some European government officials have similar fears, as explained by Attacker’s Possible Link to Migrant Trail Heightens Security Fears from the New York Times.

Many other people have argued against blaming refugees for the attack. This perspective is clear in the statement from the UN refugee agency and the governor of Delaware, Jack A. Markell’s article for CNN on Why my state won’t turn refugees away. A Newsweek article maps Every State Accepting and Refusing Syrian Refugees.

Sensitivity in the Classroom

Facing History offers general tips for cultivating safer spaces for classroom discussion. They highlight the importance of democratically establishing a “classroom contract” to create parameters for respectful behavior and expectations in discussion. Facing History’s response to the Paris attacks suggests additional strategies for productively addressing the events.

The University of Oklahoma’s Terrorism and Disaster Center offers some thoughtful advice for Helping Students Cope With Media Coverage of Disasters and parsing out the significant from the sensational.

Lesson: Teaching Tolerance, a subgroup of the Southern Poverty Law Center, has designed a lesson on Debunking Stereotypes about Muslims and Islam where students interpret charts and graphs as way to generate conversation about the Muslim population in the United States and the truths behind popular myths.

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