On Friday afternoon, we all stared at one screen or another, in horror and disbelief, as one of the world’s most iconic cities descended into violent madness. Feelings welled up inside of each one of us, a different mix for you than for me, or the next person. We were all feeling something big, though.
All of us. Together.
For me, it reached its apex when the rumour that the Louvre was under attack surfaced. Already fighting back tears, the idea of the centre of human artistic accomplishment being in any way destroyed, sent me over the edge. Not the Louvre, I thought, wiping my eyes. Please, not the Louvre. While the rumour turned out to be false, it still had its impact.
I felt helpless. So, I tweeted information that I hoped would help some make their way to safety. I felt shocked, so I connected with others who were feeling the same. I felt anger, but I kept that to myself. I felt, though, like blasting every religious person I’ve ever known, asking them how they could worship a god that so easily allowed stuff like this to happen. I held back. The faithful were just as shocked and horrified and angry as I was.
Other people, however… well, other people weren’t so tactful. To some, wanton anger and abuse is the only way to deal with a tragedy like this, and while I am an advocate for letting people react to such events in their own way, hurdling abuse at others who are feeling just as sad and distraught as you are, is not the answer.
There were three things I saw people getting angry about:
1. People were angry that the world mourned for Paris, while not showing enough emotion for other recent tragedies.
The day before Paris, ISIS attacked in Beirut, killing 40 people. Syria is war-torn and innocent lives are being lost daily. These events and tragedies, many said, are just as horrific, if not more so, than Paris and I agree. However, so is the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Or the fact that 16,000 children starve to death every day across the globe. What about the fact that 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they become men? I could go on for the rest of the day listing off things we should all be horrified about, no particular one is any more or less important than the other.
To say we can’t feel for one tragedy, because we didn’t express sufficient emotion for all the others, is absurd. People expressed emotion over Paris that they did not express for Beirut, or starving children, or sexually abused boys for two reasons. One, the media was all over the attack and you couldn’t look away if you tried, and two, we identified more with the people in Paris than we did those in Beirut or in Syria. As citizens of the Western world, we relate to other citizens of the Western world. Life in Syria is vastly different from my own and so it is much more difficult for me to identify with the experience of people praying in a Mosque than it is to identify with the experience of people attending a rock show. I’ve been to countless rock shows in venues that look just like the Bataclan. I’ve driven down the road next to my husband while he spun the Eagles of Death Metal at top volume. For fuck’s sake, my most favourite band of all time, the Deftones, had just left the venue before the attacks broke out! I can put myself there. I am not claiming it’s sadder, or more important… it’s simply that I could see myself at that event and wonder how I would react if I had been there. A rock show is vivid to me. Leaving a Mosque after prayers? Not so much.
To me, both are equally sad. Both deserve equal coverage. Both are abhorrent, reprehensible acts committed by cowards whose dogmatic beliefs have no room for valuing life. Both are awful.
But one is more vivid to me because I can put myself there. This one invokes more fear and more horror because I am forced to envision myself at the Commodore Ballroom just a few years back, attending a Trail of Dead show or Mogwai or Sunny Day Real Estate. I’m forced to imagine spilling my beer as a gunman shoves the barrel of his weapon in my face. I’m forced to picture bodies falling as the amps on stage squeal with feedback. These are images that went through my head. They were not so easy to dismiss.
As far as media attention goes, it just so happens the western media is the loudest these days. Western media will, of course, spend more time covering issues affecting the West. Paris is part of the Western world. In fact, it’s a beacon of happiness and love and enchantment. It’s full of art and delicious food and wonderful sights and sounds. It’s home to a lot of Western culture’s history and a lot of Western culture’s most cherished artifacts. It’s the setting in many of Western culture’s most celebrated films and novels. Of course, the Western media is going to give it more coverage. Who in their right mind would expect them not to?
Beirut matters. Syria is relevant. But Paris… well, Paris is a little bit more relatable to someone like me. For me, Paris is, simply put, inescapably vivid.
2. Anger was expressed that some used this tragedy to promote secular humanism.
When tweets and Facebook posts were made pointing out that the attackers in Paris were likely not humanists, it invoked a lot of rage. These types of posts were taking a horrible situation and using it to promote their own agenda. At first glance, it may seem that way, but if you actually stop to think about what is being said, that’s not it at all.
Secular humanism is a worldview with no room for violence towards other human beings. In expressing that a secular humanist would not have committed such acts, one is expressing that they wish more people would be secular humanists. If they were, perhaps Paris would never have happened and perhaps we could move forward towards a more peaceful future where news of attacks like this didn’t dominate our headlines.
How is that sentiment, in the least, promoting a personal agenda? If highlighting a worldview that values human life, after 128 were lost in senseless violence by men who held to a worldview that embraced violence and death is upsetting to you, you need to reassess your core values. There is no better time to bring light to the fact that humanism is an option, than right after a tragedy like this.
No better time.
3. Many were upset by those discussing the causes of the attacks “too soon.”
There is no such thing as “too soon”. When it comes to events that tear us apart as Paris did, events so heinous and deplorable and gross, the absolute best time to talk about the causes is while emotions are still running high.
Waiting until everyone has gone back to their daily lives, too busy to care, before we strike up that conversation is a mistake that will only lend itself to future attacks. We need to talk about it while it’s still uncomfortable. The world is not supposed to fit inside your comfort zone, and nothing of any worth will ever get done inside of it. We need to face it while it’s fresh; assess it while we still have the world’s attention. Not doing so, there is no doubt, leaves blood on our hands.
4. Laying blame on religion elicited angry responses from many.
I posted this meme:
Soon after, I received a ton of angry responses. Some asserted that perhaps by “pray” some people meaning “think” or “meditate”. Some people didn’t think religion was to blame. Others felt it was wrong to paint all of religion with the same brush.
Here’s the thing, though. France is an extremely secular country filled with atheists. They have just been attacked, for the second time, by religious extremists. Saying you’ll pray for them, which ultimately amounts to doing nothing, is like a slap in the face. Religious people love to chant their mantra over and over again, “Respect my beliefs!” but they rarely offer it in return. The men and women who make up Paris are mostly secular people. Can you not respect their lack of belief? Especially in a time of tragedy committed in the name of a belief?
A former cartoonist from Charlie Hebdo, the location of the last attack in Paris, Joann Sfar, even asked that people think of Paris as life and love and music and art, rather than praying for them.
“Thank you for #PrayForParis but we don’t need more religion,” he said.
Is it too much to ask to respect that?
Let us not forget that the men who blew themselves up to conduct these attacks were victims, too. They were victims of religion. They were victims of brainwashing and indoctrination. Without their faith, they would not have voluntarily walked into a crowded place and blown themselves up. We all know this. While many of the things ISIS does may be politically motivated, you cannot have suicide bombers without that faith. You cannot have people willing to blow themselves up for a cause, without that promise of reward in the afterlife. You simply cannot. This attack on Paris was made 100% possible by religion, and now you want to cure it with more religion? How utterly and unforgivably perverse.
To me, France is the future. A secular country that celebrates art and culture and food and romance. A socialist country that cares for its citizens with top-notch, free education, healthcare and human rights protections. France is what I hope for the rest of the world, so much so that it’s the one place on Earth, and you can ask my husband this, that I want to live more than anywhere else. I have for years. In light of recent events, I only want to more.
France is our future, I hope. So let’s celebrate it. This country will pick up, dust off and get back to being the centre of Western art and culture. It’ll light the burners again and serve up confit and cassoulet and coq au vin. It will bottle its fine wines again. It will line up to see the Mona Lisa again. The bakers will get up early again and send the smell of baking bread through the city streets. Soccer will be played in the stadiums again. The music will play in the Bataclan again.
So, let’s celebrate the unkillable spirit of Paris instead of attacking one another. Let’s look forward to Paris getting back to being Paris.