If by luck we discern fortune, freedom and the best opportunities that life can offer us, then Friday the 13th of November was the unluckiest day.
Six attacks across Paris lead by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria stole 129 lives and left France and the western world in a state of emergency, mourning and désespoir. What happens now for our world, both our immediate world concerning our loved ones as well as the world beyond the eye of Facebook, and the world thousands of miles to the East in which we bear some responsibility, in which a solution to the conditions and complexities is unclear? The terror reigning over the Middle East has been brought to the West and has imploded the heart of a metropolis, an international city where every age, religion and individual is affected.
To everyone who is hurting, reflect on the best possible action you can take now for humanity, for yourself and for others. There are scapegoats everywhere, but choosing them may not be the right thing to do. Three days prior to the attacks, a man in London was recorded on CCTV footage pushing a Muslim woman in front of a train. At the airport on Saturday, waiting to board a plane back to Paris, a person next to me sent a photo of a Muslim woman dressed in a hijab to her partner in the queue with the caption “attenzione!” (look out!). The damage of such xenophobia seems ignored, under-estimated and normalized.
Affected individuals, we are trying to express our compassion and heartache as best we can. A father can explain to his son that by laying down flowers and candles, they will be protected. A reporter pauses and looks away from the camera when the weight of the event hits him in the heart. David Martello plays his piano at Place de la Republique. In an interview with Vice News, a woman calls for ‘un rassemblement comme en janvier, nous étions tous la‘ (Translation: ‘a show of solidarity like in January [after the Charlie Hebdo attack], when everyone stood together’) and a man states that ‘if the hospital needs blood, we need to stand ready‘. We can come together to show strength, with the colours of the tricolour raining around the world. What we don’t want is our crumbling for which ISIS aims. In the same clip from Vice, two men argue over the ‘problem’ of the Syrian refugees, one insisting that we send them away, take their passports and ship them off to islands 12 hours from France. The other rebuts humanely – ‘they are citizens, you can’t kick them out or just chuck them in the bin?’ This saddens me so, because it shows a deterioration of ties between men, between citizens regardless of nationality, it shows a lack of understanding.
On the 16th November was the International Day for Tolerance, hopefully to be a reminder to people of what can counteract these sorts of atrocious acts. We can sooth and dismantle intolerance with tolerance and love and compassion. Firstly, ask yourself this: am I an intolerant person? Do I judge and stereotype people and let my prejudices drive me? Intolerance is symbiotic with fear and ignorance, so by learning, we will lose this fear. Several touching videos have gone viral and they are of such an importance. One shows a man at Place de la Republique with a scarf tied around his eyes and two signs, ‘Je suis Musulman et on dit de moi que je suis terroriste. Je vous fais confiance, et vous? Alors faites moi un calin!’ I trust you, we can interpret that he is trusting the people of Paris not to hurt him whilst he cannot see and for me that is poignant enough. After such horrific events, people who follow Islam are terrified that they will become the scapegoats for something that “a Muslim would never do”.
‘When one person dies we have all been killed’, reads a tweet, each heart beats a little faster in a state of panic and heartbreak. In Beirut, just a day before the attacks, a bomb from the same enemy killed 44 people and the victims are hardly as heralded, if at all. A tweet read that ‘Paris is a tragedy. Beirut is a tragedy and the fact that Beirut “matters” less than Paris is a tragedy’. I suppose it’s palpable why there’s a ‘safe in Paris’ button and not a ‘safe in Beirut’ button. Paris is an international (western) hub. We all know someone in Paris or have a link to Paris. My only link to Beirut is the band. But I reject this justification, it’s tragic, like the tweet goes, that the western world comes together for a western country and rejects any solidarity or brotherhood with any country east of the Black Sea. We have a connection to them, they are our blood, our people, experiencing the same injustices and inhumanities, fellow beings stripped of life.
We have our potential to show our humanity, every day we have this potential. Charlie Chaplin’s legendary speech from The Great Dictator (1940) has flooded into my Facebook feed and the fact that its values still need to be preached seventy five years later provokes perhaps a negation of the line:
The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people
This lessens in truth with every drone launched and bomb detonated. ‘The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way’, so now we must try to find it again, even if it involves tracing the breadcrumbs on the road back to where each of us began, with goodness and kindness in our childhood hearts. If this misery that is now consuming us, is just ‘the passing of greed’, greed of an extremist faction out of control, greed of west and east over oil, money and power, each one of us needs to act in spite of these poor judgements and ask ourselves, what can I do to relieve even a blade of suffering in these hectares on hectares of burning grass. Chaplin’s words are for all of us, for the dictators of the Islamic State, for those two hundred thousand who have been radicalized and indoctrinated, for those subject to terrorist attacks. Let’s not give ISIS a reason to gain support. ‘Don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you … don’t fight for slavery, fight for liberty!’, for many of these young humans who have joined ISIS, perhaps they are fleeing what they consider a slavery to a civilization that hates them, that exhibits racism and hatred, for them the Islamic State is their liberty and an escape from a despising West.
In 1956, Roland Barthes wrote Mythologies, a collection of contemporary myths about the world, of the daily life, of the soul and myths we have created to fuel our beliefs. By addressing and recognising a myth, we can abolish it. Today’s myth is a racist one, it’s the myth that the person in front of you in the queue wearing a hijab is the ‘other’. In light of these attacks, a soul-stabbing amount of people have come out with even more hate, searching for a scapegoat, whether it be an immigrant, a refugee or any other minority that he has chosen to tie to a post in the courtyard. A reporter from Tagesschau, a German newspaper, Peter Neumann, reminds us that many of the refugees (if not all of them) have fled from the horrors of Syria, they are the vulnerable ones, they have been experiencing Paris everyday.
In September, my mum and I went to Gladfest, a literary festival in North Wales. There we heard Zia Choudhry speak about his book, Just your average Muslim. Throughout the conference, he recoiled to the same theme concerning Islamaphobia, where it has come from and how to abolish it. ‘Militant, extremist, terrorist, these descriptions can be applied to certain people of all faiths or of none‘, this is how Choudhry opens his talk. It reminds me of another viral video I’ve seen earlier today in which Rezla Aslan talks to CNN, ‘if you’re a violent person, your religion will be violent. People are violent or peaceful and that depends on their social world and themselves, not on their religion’. Begin by abolishing the misconception that Islam and Muslims are the enemy. The word ‘Muslim’ is added into headlines as part of an age-old tactic to install fear in a community. This sort of demonization of the ‘other’, the ‘foreigner’ is something that people have gotten used to and are ready to accept, often without reading the full article.
What we are greatly risking is the preservation of this distinction between the Muslims of the Islamic State and the Muslims of our own countries. What’s more important now, more than ever, is solidarity amongst every citizen of the west regardless of their religion, skin colour or heritage. I ask again, what can the individual do? We can hashtag, ‘I’ll ride with you’, we can hug the Muslim man who blindfolded, stands with his signs. Choudhry talks about a fundraiser held near Liverpool, where people came together to raise money for a sick Muslim boy, even events as seemingly remote and insignificant as this can change opinions and help to abolish a myth. Education, of course is the means most crucial. By teaching people about Islam, the stereotypes and harmful prejudices will be crushed. The Koran is not a book of laws, nor a book of rights, it is a guidance that has unfortunately been manipulated and wrongly interpreted by male Islamic scholars so that it is consistent with their own views.
On a geopolitical level, the question of what to do increases ten-fold in complexity. Peter Van Buren explains how for the last fifteen years the west has been increasingly destabilizing the Middle East and created wars have produced failed states. On Sunday, two days after the attacks in Paris, France dropped twenty bombs in Raqqa destroying command centres and training camps. ‘Whack-a-mole is a game, not a plan … you can not bomb an idea and vengeance does not extinguish an idea’. There is no quick-fix answer, but what we can do is think and reflect. A friend of mine posted on Facebook some lyrics from Eagles of Death Metal, the band that performed at the Bataclan: ‘I tried to make sense of it all, but I can see that it makes no sense at all’. We must make sense of what happened lest the merciless pit of miscomprehension continues.