I don’t need to tell you what happened in Paris on Friday, November 13, 2015. The merciless and coordinated terrorist attack that left 129 people dead and 368 wounded already has its own Wikipedia entry. Though this attack follows on the heels of a deadly suicide bomb attack in Beirut, and even though Boko Haram killed more people last year than ISIS (earning itself the horrible distinction of being the world’s deadliest terrorist organization), Paris’ popularity as a tourist destination, and its importance in western culture, brought the threat of terror and the reality of the long reach ISIS’ ideological hatred very close to home. Although it is not right of us, we are used to bad things happening, “over there”, and it is simply not very present in many of our minds. But Paris is another story–to many of us, Paris (among other famous European cities like London or Rome) is an icon of cultural achievement and western civilization. It is the City of Light, of art, of romance–it’s a place we go.
So we felt the deaths of those killed in Paris more keenly than we feel the deaths of people in Beirut. Like I said, this is not right–but it is an emotional fact that I am experiencing myself. We know things are bad in Syria and Iraq (obviously, or there wouldn’t be so many refugees risking life and limb to leave), we know other countries around the world are facing instability and threats, and many of us feel sorrow or worry or a need to help, but Paris shook us to our cores.
I’m sure many of us have responded with fear. Many have responded with hatred, and have expressed a desire for revenge, either through violence (“Let’s bomb the shit out of them!”) or through a refusal to offer aid to refugees fleeing civil war and ISIS (“We don’t want them here–they’re going to murder us!”). Hearts have hardened and reason has taken a back seat–many Canadians (including Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall) either don’t know or don’t care that none of the attackers have been identified as Syrian refugees, or that the refugees who will be re-settled in Canada have gone through, and will go through, many high-level security screenings. Some people barely gave a moment of thought to the actual victims in Paris before they started in on the Islamophobic vitriol, so eager were they to express their hatred and fear (almost gleeful, it seems, to have an excuse).
But many have responded with compassion instead–recognizing that refugees from Syria are running from exactly the same people who threaten us. My own resolve remains firm–it was simply luck that I was born in Canada; that doesn’t make me better than anyone born somewhere else, and that doesn’t give me the right to deny them what my grandparents and great-grandparents were given–a safe home that still has so much room for more. Many groups and individuals across Canada are extending their hand and sponsoring refugees, and this is a wonderful thing.
But I am also sad, and scared, and what I want to feel more than anything right now is hope. Which is why this little video clip, of a Parisian father talking to his son, is such a comfort to me:
[Some very silly folks, after watching this video, felt the need to comment that flowers can’t physically protect people from guns–as if we didn’t know! But I don’t feel that the boy’s father was lying. If we honour the dignity of the dead rather than broadcast the hideousness of their killers, if we lay down flowers instead of taking up arms, these gestures will protect what is most valuable in us–our spirit, and our humanity. A people that is physically and materially safe but is violent, suspicious, and cruel, is no people at all.]
We need to remember that children are watching us. The more we fear-monger and hate the more frightened and powerless they will feel. We cannot, hard as we try, guarantee that nothing bad will happen, but we can show them that it is possible to live without fear (even if we ourselves are afraid). We can show them the beauty and goodness that is in the world. We need to do this for them. And I think we need to do it for ourselves too.