Why we care about the terrorist attacks in Paris

I am sure no one’s missed it. It was Friday the 13th, November, 2015, just the other day. It was in Paris, a normal Friday night out for many. But not normal at all. At least 120 people were killed. At least 128 dead. Over 180 more injured. A hostage situation in a sold-out Balaclan, with the capacity of 1,500, during The Eagles of Death Metal’s gig, led to a massacre of 82 people. Shootings and one explosion in and by three restaurants and bars in the 10-11th arrondissements, in the banlieus, lengthened the list of dead by at least 17. Three explosions on the Stade de France during a football match between Germany and France: one killed.

National Gallery in the lights of the French tricolour, 14 Nov © Gerard Puigmal 2015
National Gallery in the lights of the French tricolour, November 14
© Gerard Puigmal 2015

It is not only the mass media that has dropped everything else to shed light upon these events. It is not only my Facebook feed that is exploding with articles about these horrible events, articles with detailed accounts, articles warning for the implications, articles discussing every possible aspect of it including what is lacking. On Saturday, there was a Ressemblement à Trafalgar Square to show solidarity to France. People with lights, signs with the classical Parisian slogan Fluctuat Nec Magriture (Tossed but not Sunk), the National Gallery lit up with the French flag. The fireworks of the Lord Mayor’s parade were cancelled in London on Saturday, lighting Tower Bridge in the French red, white and blue instead. Uber changed the colours of their cabs on their app to be the French tricolour. A campaign has been launched to make The Eagles of Death Metal’s cover of Duran Duran’s ‘Save A Prayer’ No. 1 on the UK top chart to show support and solidarity. Many world leaders have made statements in support of France, referring to the ‘liberté, égalite and fraternité’ the French flag supposedly stands for and the ‘barbarism’ of the atrocities. However unintentional the strong nationalistic, or patriotic if you so like, sense of these references may be, it is there and it is unavoidable when the world is coloured in blue, white and red – if so for a short period of time – and, doubtlessly, it will have its implications.

Ressemblement à Trafalgar Square, November 14 © Gerard Puigmal 2015
Ressemblement à Trafalgar Square, November 14
© Gerard Puigmal 2015

 

Interestingly, among the articles problematising the mass attention the terrorist attack got and gets, there is an article on the April terrorist attack in Kenya in the Garissa University where at least 147 students were murdered by al-Shabab militants. I read about it in June, months after the attack, not straight after and without ever reaching mass media. Neither did the attacks of November 12 in Baghdad and Beirut, killing 21 and 47 (200 injured) respectively, before the Parisian terrorist attacks. We say it is because no white person died in those attacks. We say it is this that makes it less important for us. I am afraid this is true, that this is the reason for mass media’s choice of attention, but it is not the only reason social media and London in particular have given this attention to the terrorist attacks in Paris. The people killed November 13 were ‘the young’, and I am not talking about their age necessarily. It was a Friday night out. It was the day you go out and have some drinks and go to a concert and go to a football match. You might not be touristing and travelling or doing anything in particular, you are not involved in politics maybe, ISIS has no place in your life except for what the newspaper tells you. No, it was not a killing of the poor; no, it was not a killing of black people; it was people enjoying themselves that were targeted. And yes, this is more relatable. Living in London, going out for food and drinks and gigs and games, Paris becomes the parallel world to London, a city of enjoyment, a city to go out for food and drinks and gigs and games. It could have been us. It could have been me. It could have been someone I know. Luckily, none of my friends in Paris were affected. But they could have been, so easily. Of course Paris is in a state of shock. Of course Londoners are reacting.

It is not different from the terrorist attacks all over the world. It is different for us. We should not forget about the numerous school shootings in the States, where the biggest threat today is that of individual white supremacists fed by the new wave of anonymous support through the Internet. Neither should we forget about the many terrorist attacks in Egypt, Iraq, India, Nigeria, Mali, Turkey – by ISIS and by other terrorist groups. The list of terrorist attacks is massive, even excluding all details and names – although that is what is actually important; and it is not in Europe nor in the US that terrorism is the biggest issue. Not because of the West’s high security, I would argue, but because of the absence of an active conflict.

However, let us also not disregard the attacks on Paris either. Change your Facebook profile pictures to show your solidarity if you wish. Read what is happening, because it is important, and what France’s – and ultimately NATO’s – reactions will be. Whether or not on-the-ground troops are to be sent to fight ISIS, meaning ‘our’ soldiers, ‘our’ people are to be in direct war with the death and terror it includes, would impact a large part of the world. It would affect not only the West, if so only because of the disproportionate amount of power the West has, or is seen to have at least, in comparison to the rest of the world.

Pray for Paris if you want. Pray for the world. Or don’t pray. No one will disregard this, the French the very least, but let us see it in perspective and let us not forget it for a while, as we tend to do as soon as the links leave the Facebook feed. There is havoc in a large part of the world right now, and it is more crucial than ever to know of it, because this is what the politics will be shaped by, and we are not empowered by voting but we do have the power to affect the government in our actions and expressions. Having power also implies the need to use it, feel free to disagree if you please, but it will be used whether we want it or not, and Londoners, Britons, Europeans, the educated in any democratic state, whoever you please, have as a population more power now than we have ever had before. And surely we’ll fuck it up, but we have to know what our actions lead to, how they affect what is happening. So let us make the debates more complicated, let us show our reactions and feelings – because it will affect the government, and it will affect the world. The mission against Kony did not work out in the end, but social media’s impact on the revolutions of the Arab Spring was massive. We are living in a different world: the Internet and social media have increased the speed of dissimination of news and ideas, and with speed comes the possibility of an explosion of opinion, a massive reaction. Can we change the world? I don’t know. Can we have a serious impact on it? Most definitely. Let us then think of what we do, and what is said and expressed and felt, because now, our expressions are more important than ever.

 

Some readings on the terrorist attacks in Paris:

BBC’s article on the course of events; ‘Paris attacks: Bataclan and other assaults leave many dead’

‘The Paris attackers hit the city’s young, progressive core’ by Manu Saadia

Karuna Ezara Parikh’s poem reacting to only the Paris attacks going viral

‘We must destroy Isis but not play into their hands – the wrong response would create countless new recruits’ by Sunny Hundal

Isobel Bowdery’s eye-witness account of what happened at The Eagles of Death Metal’s gig at Bataclan

 

By Maria Kruglyak

Photos by: Gerard Puigmal, http://gerardpuigmal.com

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