Seattle University Alum Amanda Rodgers woke up in her small apartment in Southern France in the early hours of Nov. 14 to dozens of messages flooding her cellphone. Friends, family, people she hadn’t heard from in years messaged her the same thing, ‘Are you in Paris? Are you okay?’.
Starting at 9:30 p.m. local time with a drive by shooting at Le Petit Cambodgeand La Carillon, a small restaurant, six separate attacks shook France, and brought the world to a standstill.
The Bataclan was another target in Paris, where several men opened fire on the crowd, killing at least 80 and wounding many more. The combined six attacks killed over 120 people, and received a strong response by French President, Francois Hollande, who sent military reinforcements into Parisian neighborhoods, conducting conspirator sweeps, and closed the country’s borders.
Yet, as Rodgers explained, the reaction from the French was not to cower. Through her experiences as an English teaching assistant engaging with her high school class in France she saw resiliency in the face of terror.
“They’re not going to yield to terrorism. And I think it’s a great reaction to have, the French are very dedicated to this idea of keeping on. But on the flip side you can still tell that everyone is really shaken, really scared from the events,” Rodgers said.
Fellow teaching assistant and Seattle U Alum Kaitlin Sager spoke to the importance of standing up against terror. For her, to live in fear is to let those who commit acts of terror win, as fear intermingles with hate, and is the driving force behind terrorism. That being said, Rodgers felt as if proximity to these events is important in understanding reactions. On a personal level she felt a sense of comfort with actions taken by the state to secure borders and hunt down escaped conspirators.
Both Sager and Rodgers believe that there is a much larger picture than just the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris.
“Although you should stand for Paris, there are other things happening too, it’s a global crisis,” Sager said.
There is an overgeneralization by some media sources, in Sager’s point of view. She fears that essentialism could simplify a complex, multidimensional issue to an, “us versus them, black and white,” mentality.
Rodgers pointed to the lack of coverage on the killing of 40 innocent people in Beirut, Lebanon the day before the attacks in Paris. For her, this skewed focus highlights an important difference in how we simplify terrorist acts.
“It very much others Lebanon; it’s a natural response, but it’s not a good response. It’s a bad response because it keeps Lebanon as this place where we’ve decided that it’s okay for things to happen there because it’s expected,” Rodgers said.
Beyond the attacks in Paris, 30 were killed in an explosion in Nigeria, 40 were killed in an explosion in Lebanon, nine were killed in gunfire in southern Turkey, and at least seven were killed in a car bomb on the morning of Nov. 18 in Baghdad.
Certain, more generalist, media outlets have portrayed these events as an effect of either mass migrations of Syrian refugees or the actions of groups, such as the Islamic State, claiming to act on behalf of the religion of Islam. Some even go as far as to claim that Muslims themselves are the source of these problems.
Ali Mian, an assistant professor of theology and religious studies, sees this disconnect as a lack of proper background knowledge of Muslims and Islam. He believes that there is a need, in some more reckless media coverages, of an understanding about the long history of the Islamic civilization and the diversity of the Islamic experience.
“Islam itself is a neutral category because it stands for so much,” Mian said. “Islam is not a person who speaks or who acts in the world, Islam is the name of a constellation of ideas and texts and sources and institutions and rituals and theories and inspirations of people.”
Just as the viewpoint of some media sources oversimplifies the role of religion in recent acts of terror, they also oversimplify the complexity of the situation in France.
“Both from U.S media and French media, it’s ‘This is an attack on our civilization’. What I want to say is, no it’s not. It’s an attack on innocent people, it’s carnage, but it’s not an attack on a civilization. It’s a response to a political situation,” said professor of French Victor Reinking.
He expressed his belief that although one should never blame the victims of such attacks, we must understand underlying societal and historical causes. French lecturer, Maria Leon explained that the marginalization of Muslim and Northern African youth particularly in France has a long history. From physical isolation in outer projects to legal suppressions of religious expression, she believes that this reaction stems from systemic problems within France.
“They are pushed out of a place that is public and normal into a place that is clandestine and politicized. So France has a lot to think about, with how it’s treating its Muslim population, and how this concept of Laicite—the break between religion and government—is creating more wrong than good right now,” Leon said.
She worries about what the future will bring. With the French and American election cycles in full swing, there is a major concern from many that these attacks will push Western politics into more conservative and reactionary ideologies. Leaders like Marine Le Pen, leader of the French right wing National Front party, could use this tragedy to push agendas of western nations to further marginalize excluded communities.
This is ever more evident as the attacks on Friday night were different than previous acts of terror such as the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters last year.
“They attacked a symbol, they attacked Charlie Hebdo which is a very controversial newspaper that ridiculed Islam and religions in general,” said Leon. “This time they did not attack a symbol, they attacked random civilians.”
Terrorism is a strange phenomenon, according to Reinking, as it is all at once so simple and so effective.
“Young men with automatic weapons brought the world to a standstill. It says a great deal,” Reinking said.
Most recently French police and SWAT teams have conducted raids in outlying neighborhoods in search of terrorists who escaped. This morning in France these raids were met with resistance; a female suicide bomber confronted police in the St-Denis neighborhood, wounding several SWAT members. A resisting French citizen was killed in returning fire by the government agents.
Some believe that going forward, the focus should be on unity against terror and violence. Rather than further marginalizing communities that play an important role in the west as well as internationally, we should focus on coming together.
“We all condemn the acts, but what are the resources for reconstruction, for rebuilding bridges, not for tearing down bridges?” Mian said.
Jason may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org