19 Juillet 2016
I started this blog with one thing in mind: creating a bilingual cultural platform to foster international bonds, especially between my native country, France, and my adoptive one, the USA. Over the last two years, I have written on a variety of subjects, some serious, like sexism, some less, like what I would do if I had a giant pile of money.
Never did I think that I would tackle the issue of terrorism. As you may know, France was hit by another terrorist attack on July, 14th. In France, that date marks the fête nationale, the French equivalent of Independence Day, on which we celebrate the end of absolute monarchy and the inception of our modern democratic regime. That night in the city of Nice on the Mediterranean coast, like everywhere else in France, people were out on the streets celebrating. They watched the fireworks and enjoyed the waterfront with their family and friends. Then the horror happened. Four days later, the death count is 84, although it might still go up as many people are still in the hospital, some in critical condition. Never did I think that something like that would happen in my country. But then again, never did I think that in January of 2015 two men would storm the headquarters of a Parisian newspaper and kill everyone they encountered there. And how could I have foreseen that an even more dramatic ordeal was to come when, in November of that same year, several bloodthirsty idiots would lead synchronized attacks all over the French capital causing over 130 casualties (including their shitty, shitty selves).
This was an unprecedented national tragedy and it is amazing -in the worst way- that it has already almost been matched in its level of horror with the Nice attack. At this point, national tragedy has become part of our lives. Checking on our friends and family, hearing of people close to us who have lost their loved ones has become part of our lives.
On the French version of Slate, someone wrote an article entitled “Souffrir à distance” (“To suffer from a distance”) about what it feels like to see those horrific events unfold in your country when you are living abroad. It is a weird feeling. At the end of last year and then again a few days ago I felt so hurt and powerless but also so isolated. Where I was living there were no shrines, no candles, not even people I could talk to in French about the tragedy. It is true that America was not oblivious to France’s shock. In November, Obama made a moving speech in which he commiserated with the French people and assured us of America’s solidarity. Flags were at half-mast; people knew what happened and were visibly afflicted by it. But not being able to be around my countrymen, knowing they feel the way I do, or at least close to the way I do, not being able to hug my French friends and family and take part in that national mourning process, that took a toll on me.
Now it is happening all over again. Obama made another speech. The flags were at half-mast again (although there is so much happening right now that it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why flags are at half-mast on a given day). But the displays of compassion where fainter, the level of attention people paid to the tragedy was not as high. A lot of it had to do with how crazy the news is right now: a failed military coup in Turkey, cops shot and killed in Dallas and then Baton Rouge… Also, I am not demanding that everybody quit what they’re doing to pay attention to what is happening in France. But it scares me to see how numb we have already become.
After the Charlie Hebdo attack, Noam Chomsky made some remarks about selective compassion, about how we cared more about a handful of white people than about dozens of non-white ones. He was right. France has experienced some outpourings of compassion that places like, say, Pakistan, Afghanistan or Turkey don’t get to “enjoy”. Well, a year and a half later, we surely don’t care about non-white people any more than before (where were the calls to prayers and thoughts for the victims of the terrifying July, 4th attack that killed close to 300 people in Baghdad?) but we seem to be caring less about western tragedies as well. And how can we be blamed? How can I blame Americans if they weren’t as distressed by the tragedy that affected my country on July 14th? They have cared before, now it’s just like a bad movie playing on repeat: they already know it, they don’t need to tell us how they feel about it anymore. It is a weird feeling seeing your country become one of these places where terrorist attacks happen so often that people have become desensitized to it. You might say “Well that’s how people in Iraq feel.” Yes, I get it. I am a sheltered white Westerner who has always felt safe, who has lived a privileged life in a rich and stable country and whose reality is now challenged. My sense of security has been shattered, my country is being treated like a place where terrorist attacks happen, because they just fucking do.
In Nice, a truck plowed into a crowd crushing bodies and lives, including the ones of people who survived but who would never be the same because their loved ones were lying lifeless on the pavement. In a city that is a two-hour drive away from where my parents met and my brothers were born a man rented a truck with the intent of killing as many people as possible. He killed two people who came from a small village that is close to the one I grew up in. He killed two Americans, a father and his 11-year old son (who wasn’t even the youngest kid to die that night). He killed a 20-year old Russian exchange student. He killed many more. And there is so much pain. I just want to say that: I am in so much pain over this tragedy. And I know my suffering is nothing compared to the people who have been more than indirectly affected by these events, the ones whose lives will never be the same because they lost their loved ones, because they are injured, because they will never forget what they saw, what they heard, they will never forget this madman’s rage, his desire to destroy them, to cause as much grief as possible because that’s what triggers this shithead’s endorphin production. And I’m not even mentioning the ones who can’t even feel anything anymore, the ones who died instantly, the ones who agonized in the hospital, the ones who are still in intensive care and might never regain consciousness.
I don’t know why I am writing this article, but this pain I’m feeling seems like the most likely cause of this outpouring of emotions. However, I know that, despite the pain, now is not the time to stay inert. Now is not the time to shelter yourself from the outside world and let the people in charge deal with it. Now is the time to do something to guarantee that more evil doesn’t come out of those events. Already the far right is getting ready to pray on people’s fears and prejudice in an attempt to gain political leverage, not realizing that they’re playing Isis’s game, just at a different level. Even the mainstream right is giving into ignorant fearmongering with former President and fucktard in chief Nicolas Sarkozy leading the shit pack (how in hell did people ever elect such an unfathomable idiot)? They, like Donald Trump, are only too happy to capitalize on those attacks, as if they confirmed the validity of their ideological intolerance, not realizing that the world is indeed a very complicated place, and that angrily calling for “tough” measures is only a way for them to feel better about their conception of it and of the importance of the part they play in it.
Now more than ever, we need to resist the temptation of simple solutions, of authoritarianism, of the “them against us” rhetoric. We need to be patient, we need to keep our cool, and, most of all, we must value peace and mutual understanding. People like to repeat over and over again that what will save us is the preservation of the ideals of the French Republic. I think this is only part of the solution (plus, the “ideals of the French Republic” can be used to ostracize, to silence and to shun parts of the population). I am sorry if I sound super cheesy, but, in my opinion, what will save us is love. A set of principle is something that Isis also ostensibly has. What they don’t have is love. They lost sight of the simple desire to preserve human life, to want to see people thrive and be happy. They forgot what empathy feels like. We have empathy. That’s what is making us feel so down right now, but that is also what makes us so much stronger than Isis, not just better (although we shouldn’t fixate on that feeling of superiority) but actually stronger. Because, in the end, Isis is weak. They use destructive power because of this very weakness. Their acts of murder don’t make them strong. On the other side, their inhumanity, their blindness and their narcissism make them weaker than frightened toddlers. It is only by accepting the lies of the intolerant fear mongers that we will put ourselves at risk of falling to Isis’s level. Let us not do that. We can do better and we will.