On Friday night, the deadliest attack in France since World War II killed 129 people in Paris. Although the carnage was widespread, 89 of the victims lost their lives at Le Bataclan—one of the capital’s most iconic musical landmarks. Over the past few days, people around the world have asked themselves why the legendary music venue bore the brunt of the attacks. Located in the city’s multicultural 11th arrondissement, Le Bataclan is only blocks away from the former offices of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical newspaper that was targeted in January by terrorists who killed 11 people.
The Parisian institution has a rich political and cultural history. Built in 1864 and opened the following year, the concert hall was originally called the Grand Café Chinois in honor of architect Charles Duval’s pagoda-inspired design. The nightspot was eventually renamed after the Ba-ta-clan, a popular French operetta by Jacques Offenbach. In 1892, Jules Réval, Stiw-Hall, and Buffalo Bill headlined at the venue. The Parisian institution was also the site of some of Edith Piaf’s earliest performances. Converted into a cinema in 1926, Le Bataclan reclaimed its musical crown in the 1970s, when an epic roster of rock bands graced its 1,000-seat room. Lou Reed, John Cale, and Nico made rock’n’roll history there in January 1972 when a Cale solo gig morphed into an impromptu Velvet Underground reunion. Prince, Jeff Buckley, Captain Beefheart, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motörhead, the Clash, the Cure, the Ramones, Beck, My Bloody Valentine, Blur, and Oasis have all trod its floorboards over the years.
Was the concert hall targeted because it symbolizes lefty bohemian decadence? On Saturday, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, calling them “the first of the storm” and mocking France as a “capital of prostitution and obscenity.” Justin E.H. Smith pointed out the cultural significance of the targets in a recent article for Slate:
“One thing to notice, first, is that they did not target wealthy old operagoers, or fat plutocrats and their diamond-encrusted mistresses. They targeted the young, multiethnic, bohemians of Paris, people who likely have limited resources of money and endless capacity for the enjoyment of life. This is an image of a certain kind of Parisian life that is old and familiar enough for even the limited imagination of a fundamentalist to understand.”
Some commentators have speculated that anti-semitism may have been a motivating factor in the attack. In a recent article, The New York Times called attention to the fact that the hall also has a political history. “From the early 2000s until 2009, when the majority owner was a Jewish family, pro-Palestinian activists held several demonstrations outside the hall to protest an annual benefit held there for the Israeli border police.” Marc Hecker, a researcher at the French Institute for International Relations, told The New York Times:
“When I heard there was an attack on the Bataclan, I thought it might just be by chance. It’s an easy target, and like ISIS said, it’s a place of debauchery. But there are hundreds of concerts halls in Paris and it happened to hit there…The Bataclan had held galas for the Israeli Army and might have been known by the jihadist movements for that.”
Neither the French authorities nor Jewish groups have confirmed that anti-Semitism was an element in Friday’s attacks. The investigation is ongoing, and the city’s shell-shocked residents have been left with the daunting task of resuming their everyday lives. On Saturday, German musician Davide Martello paid the victims a poignant tribute. He dragged his peace sign adorned grand piano through the streets and played John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ in front of Le Bataclan’s shuttered doors.
Feature image via Le Monde