Why Paris? Why France? Why Cyberspace?

An interview with historian William R. Keylor
By Shelley B. Blank
Shelley B. Blank
Shelley B. Blank
December 21, 2015 Updated: December 21, 2015

William R. Keylor, Ph.D., is professor of History and International Relations at Boston University, and a noted historian. He speaks of the past, the recent pain of Paris, and the new threats of cyber invasions. 

An Interview With William R. Keylor

SBB: Why Paris? Why anywhere? 

WRK: Here, off the top of my head, is what I would like to say to you and your publication.

“Why France? Why Paris?” I have been asked this question ever since the recent attacks. I believe that the answer is fourfold: 

First, France is probably the most secular nation in the world. It would never have “In God We Trust” on its coins. Its parliament would never invite clergymen to give the invocation before each of its sessions. Its political candidates would never think it necessary to affirm their religious faith as a qualification for elective office. It has a total separation of church and state, unlike our own country. That makes it exactly the opposite of ISIS and the advocates of the imposition of Sharia law.

Second, France was the strongest supporter of the United States-led bombing campaign in Syria, even before the Paris attacks.

Third, France has the largest Muslim population in Europe and the largest number of citizens who have traveled to Syria to enlist in the ISIS campaign.

Fourth, the Muslim population of France has not assimilated into French society and culture, as have Muslims in the United States to American society and culture. They are, therefore, much more alienated and dissatisfied than are American Muslims, which make them much more vulnerable to the siren song of ISIS.

That said, France is not the only target of jihadist attacks. But it is a convenient symbol, for the reasons listed above, of the kind of society that is anathema to ISIS.

SBB: A large cyber attack on French websites has been reported following the nationwide anti-terrorism demonstrations. How will the the digital revolution change International Relations?

WRK: France has faced this type of cyber attack throughout 2015, starting in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack and the attack on the kosher supermarket in Paris. The problem with this type of cyber attack is that it’s impossible to determine which ones come from jihadist groups such as ISIS or Al-Qaeda, and which come from single individual techies who are sympathetic to the terrorist cause but are acting on their own.

An attack from this or that “Cyber Caliphate” might simply be an act by someone in a room with the kind of technological sophistication that allows this kind of cyber-aggression. One of the unfortunate consequences of the digital revolution.

SBB: Thank you Bill.


The Internet: The new print, the new light, the acquisition of a new language, the new global campfire: Can someone put out our fire? 

cyber attack (noun). An attempt to damage, disrupt, or gain unauthorized access to a computer, computer system, or electronic communications network.
— Dictionary.com

A cyber attack is not only a new type of warfare. It is a more ruthless one, with a new mentality. It is total global warfare without a battlefield. It is, for all intents and purposes, invisible attackers waging war on almost any social structure or people chosen. Using a laptop and an easily obtainable electrical source, they can dismantle the basic elements of culture, communications, and community. We have chosen to live in a world of nuclear plants and programs, drone weaponry, powerful financial centers, and military and civilian satellites—all perilously vulnerable to cyber warfare.

A cyber attack crippled Iran’s nuclear program, making it nonfunctional for years. 

A cyber attacker can redirect a drone to a target of its choice. 

A cyber attacker, in a matter of hours, broke into 30 banks in New York City in 2014, robbing them of over $41 million dollars by hacking into the banks’ computer systems, and allowing their ATMs to accept counterfeit bank credit cards and issue more than their limit on funds.

A cyber attacker’s takeover of a power grid could result in widespread chaos and loss of life, as electricity would be lost in hospitals, air-traffic control towers, and the Internet incapacitated; it can spread germ warfare, unlock dams, and set of nuclear devices.

So, now that modern man has an evolved brain and opposable thumbs, and can bring forth the catastrophic biblical plague and floods, he can outdo himself by also scorching the land.

In the past, large armies attacked large armies. Now, almost anyone can perform cyber attacks from almost anywhere, and every person and facility is a valuable and potential target—as is our freedom from fear, our most personal freedom.

The immoral mental warrior has finally found his perfect weapon: a completely destructive, totally silent culture and information assassin, who is without a moral microchip in its mainframe. 

Shelley B. Blank has worked with major national and international newspapers as a journalist as well as a corporate executive. He has produced programs for Public Radio and lectured on modern multimedia communications and technology.