I’m a New Yorker now, but I wasn’t on 9/11. I have only ever experienced terrorism from a distance. But that’s the thing about terrorism, isn’t it? It’s fucking terrifying. Terrorism, beyond its capacity to elicit terror in all who see it, is really asymmetrical guerilla warfare waged against a group, a nation, or an ideology.
In our world right now, terrorism is waged on a daily basis. The United States may no longer utilize the infamous “threat level indicator” (or, the mood ring of doom), but terrorism still reigns, and it’s only getting stronger.
Mostly everyone on this planet—well, everyone with access to a television, radio, or computer—knows about the attacks that occurred last weekend in Paris. If you are unfamiliar with what happened in Paris, a group of fighters—now believed to be from the terrorist organization ISIS—carried out a coordinated, deadly attack on soft targets (civilian targets) in Paris. There were suicide bombs outside of the Stade d’France during a football match between France and Germany. There were gunmen bursting their way into restaurants in a very popular neighborhood, killing many people in their path. There were two gunmen that broke into a concert hall during a heavy metal show. The gunmen kept all of the concertgoers as hostages, over 1,000 in all. They killed over one hundred, execution style.
In the wake of these attacks, the western world is in panic. Many Americans want to drop a nuclear weapon in the Middle East. France wants to ‘wipe out’ ISIS. By all accounts, these terrorists got what they wanted; people are frightened. The outpouring of that fear and grief from the nearly 130 deaths in the wake of the Paris attack has been in the forefront of western minds. There have been many reactions to this tragedy, and many of them are incredibly dangerous.
Friday night, one hundred and thirty people died in a terrorist attack in Paris. Everyone in the Western world saw the footage of the aftermath of that tragedy. Everyone in the western world was forced to listen to commentary about the attacks for days afterward. The media engineered this attention. News organizations interrupted their normal Friday-night lineups in favor of live coverage and analysis of the Parisian attacks. MSNBC, for example, allowed Rachel Maddow to broadcast, commercial-free, for three hours. Facebook immediately created the ‘check-in as safe’ feature for people living in Paris, and a French flag profile photo filter for the rest of us. Meanwhile, terrorist attacks in non-Western, non-white parts of the world come and go with little—if any—fanfare. In the month of October alone, there were attacks in Lebanon, Nigeria, and Egypt, which is not even to mention the attacks that occur in Syria, Libya, and Iraq every day. In Baghdad, two days before the attacks on Paris, a suicide bomber targeted a funeral. Nineteen people are dead. It is fucked up that we only have wall-to-wall coverage of terror when it affects “our own,” since all people are ours.
In the wake of the attacks on Paris, several United States politicians have been screaming about how this proves that we shouldn’t be accepting any Syrian refugees. The Islamophobia that has been spewed from all directions in the wake of this tragedy is disgusting. Twenty-six governors of U.S. states declared that they would not accept any refugees. They don’t have the authority to do that, so they will have to, but just imagine the vitriol those refugees are going to be subjected to. I can’t even imagine.
However, it isn’t only the right-wing that has gone too far in some of their rhetoric about this tragedy. There are those on the left-wing fringes who should be just as ashamed of themselves. If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read someone say that we should not pray for Paris because they “got what they deserved,” I would have a disturbing amount of money. These so-called, self-proclaimed radicals believe that because France was a colonial power once and did hold land and persecute many people in the Muslim world, that they deserve the terror. The one hundred and thirty people who were killed in 2015 have no bearing and no responsibility for the colonialism of their ancestors, and they do not deserve to die. To kill an innocent is wrong, no matter how “enlightened” you believe your rhetoric to be. The children cannot be held responsible for the crimes of their fathers.
Both of these reactions to this tragedy are wrong. We cannot slip into the trap of Islamophobia. We cannot either excuse terrorism and murder. We must mourn the dead, both victim and killer. We must not alienate the Muslim world. We must not allow our human siblings die at the hands of those who would control the world. We cannot be callous or suspicious. Caution, in moderation, is acceptable. Soft Islamophobia is not.
The rhetoric on both sides about this tragedy makes me want to scream and tear out my hair.