There are a number of reasons why the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) might have targeted Le Bataclan concert hall in Paris. According to the group’s own statement, it was a place “where hundreds of apostates had gathered in a profligate prostitution party.” Maybe they knew Le Bataclan had once been Jewish-owned, or chose it simply because it would be a soft target. But the fact that it was a popular music venue playing host to an American band called Eagles of Death Metal may also have been significant. ISIS despises both America and popular music, and for some years has been building a particular hatred of its darker, louder forms.
At its birth, in Northern Syria in spring 2013, ISIS was a sinister puzzle. Why, when thousands were being killed in a brutal war between rebel groups and Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s regime, should this mysterious new rebel outfit care what people were wearing and watching and listening to? One young Syrian who lives in ISIS’ capital of Raqqa saw his best friend detained for several weeks for sporting a heavy metal T-shirt. Other Syrians were arrested for songs found on their mobile phones. ISIS diligently searched for minor infractions: pornography, music or anything that it considered satanic, demonic or otherwise “insulting Allah.” In ISIS’ sliding scale of punishments, a single song was worth between 30 and 40 lashes with a whip or stick. In one incident at the beginning of 2015, a group of musicians was apparently given 90 lashes each for the crime of playing an electronic keyboard.