One of the most common questions I get asked nowadays: “Is France safe?”
It seems travellers are wondering if they should cancel their trip to France especially after the horrific attacks we recently endured, where civilians and police officers have sadly been targeted and killed this past year.
Our police officers deserve our deepest respect because they are the ones who are motivated to risk their own life to protect a stranger’s. This motivation is key.
Terrorist attacks are ugly. It may seem at first glance that attacks are on the rise in France, but let’s take a step back. An objective analysis of the data on terrorism suggests some rather different conclusions:
- The terrorism situation in France is not nearly as bad as it is portrayed in the media.
- This “new” brand of terrorism pretends to be religious, but is not actually motivated by religion.
For tourists worrying about their French trip
It always strikes me as ironic that some foreigners are so concerned about traveling to France, yet feel completely safe within their own country. Let’s take a look at the numbers: the 2015 murder rate was 1.3 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in France and 4.9 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in the US, which means your probability of being murdered is nearly four times higher in the US than in France.
Even though fewer people have been killed by terrorists compared to other dangers, the recent attacks have significantly impacted the French tourism industry. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, the French GDP contribution from tourism has fallen by $1.7 billion because of the 2015 terrorist attacks. And the Ile de France tourism board report estimates Paris received 1.5 million fewer visitors in 2016. Still, it’s time for a reality check.
Terrorists are a lot less dangerous than cars
People often forget that everyday life presents a much higher risk than a terrorist attack. If you add up all the incidents for the past 10 years in France, cars have killed 30,941 people, while terrorists have killed 172. This means you are much more likely to get plowed down by a Parisian bus than killed by a terrorist.
Terrorist attacks are not increasing
Even though it may feel like there’s an uptick in terrorism, data shows that the number of attacks in France over the past 40 years is actually decreasing rather than increasing. If you want to have a look at the raw data by yourself, you can check out the Global Terrorism Database.
France is one of the safest countries in the world
Few people realize that 95% of the deaths caused by terrorism are actually centralized in the regions of the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. According to the 2016 report of the Global Terrorism Index, even when accounting for the most recent deadly incidents, France still doesn’t appear in the top 25 countries most affected by terrorism.
What motivates French Terrorists?
I find it interesting to note that the French have been actively studying their terrorists for years, and have discovered that they are not necessarily motivated by religion, but rather by their own psycho-social vulnerabilities.
The CPDSI, a French organization that has been tasked with handling young French radicalized people, has suggested that even though terrorists pretend at first that their motivation is religious, their true motivations can often be found elsewhere. Many times, they are young people who struggle to find a sense of purpose and who feel useless.
Here are the most common motivations of French terrorists, according to CPDSI research:
- Desire to be a knight, discovering the world, living an adventure
- Desire to belong to a group, experience solidarity and fraternity
- Desire to help others, being useful, save the world, participate in a humanitarian project
- Desire to take part in a fight, destroy, exercise violence, because a peaceful life is boring
- Desire for power, dignity, recognition, and pride
As you can see, the intrinsic motivations of the majority of young French terrorists have little to do with true religion.
Video courtesy of Alexis Duclos for INSPIRELLE
Where does the word “Terrorism” come from?
Most likely, very few of you have ever stopped to think about the origins of the word, and you may be surprised to learn that it actually comes from the French word terrorisme. It was derived from the Latin verb terrere (e, terreo) meaning “to frighten”, and was originally used only to describe the state terrorism as practiced by the French government during the 1793–1794 Reign of Terror, and not to talk about an ideologist murderer.
Despite many attempts over the years by multiple international organizations, there is still no clear, universal definition of the word terrorism. One would argue that any violent act committed in the name of ideology would be terrorist – yet you rarely hear the horrific acts committed by white males referred to in this way. Instead, most of us automatically (and unfortunately) associate the word “terrorism” with Islam.
So is France safe?
Going back to our original question – my answer is still Yes.
All emotions and media-frenzy aside, the data suggests that France is still safe overall and the risk of anything happening during your vacation here is quite minimal.