The Paris Attacks – and after

This post was inspired by a fellow ex-pat’s response to the Paris attacks:

When I saw the first reports of the Paris attacks I felt very, very far away from home. We probably saw the footage before our friends and families, many of whom I know woke up to the news; we were in a bar with some American colleagues.

It was strange. The news was acknowledged, but the conversation carried on. The ubiquitous TV was on silent – there was probably a football game that had commandeered the PA system – and that may have had something to do with it. But as the days have passed, I have felt that, as Brits, we are just more connected with Paris than most Americans. Of course, DC is an international city. There was a gathering of people with flowers outside the French embassy and flags are flying at half mast. But generally people haven’t seemed to be that affected or shocked by the event. Maybe this is how it feels to be from Lebanon right now…

It’s at times like these that I’m grateful for the internet – for Facebook and WordPress especially. I’m not sure about the temporary French flag backgrounds, but I appreciated the ‘safe’ button, and the fact that many of my friends were posting their allegiance to both Paris and Beirut:

Paris and Beirut

I also took quite a bit of comfort in this interview I found posted to my facebook feed:

And from Michelle W’s selection of blog posts

John Oliver’s rant against ISIS and Waleed Aly’s call to not let ISIS turn us against Muslims gave me some feeling of empowerment:

And while Judith Butler painted a worrying picture of an ‘enhanced security state’ in Paris (, I took heart from the fact that I don’t usually hear people demanding that countries and police forces should do more after tragedies like these. I do think that governments should be more honest about the choice we have to make: greater security and less freedom, or more freedom and greater risk? But overall I think people have accepted that we live at a time when attacks are likely to happen, but that if we abandon our freedoms, then the terrorists have won.

The aftermath of the attacks, as it has played out in American politics, has been less heartening. First, I’m slightly impatient with the stories that schools have canceled trips to DC for fear of terrorism here. I’m impatient for two reasons:

  1. There hasn’t been a major attack on US soil since 9/11 – which was in 2001. Since then we’ve had the Madrid train bombings in 2004, 7/7 in the UK in 2005 and now the Beirut and Paris attacks – and that’s not counting the numerous attacks in Iraq, Mumbai, Karachi and many more countries, which don’t make the news.
  2. If you let fear of terrorism stop you living your life – and learning – then (as I said in my previous paragraph) the terrorists have won.

Secondly, I’ve been really depressed by the rhetoric against taking in refugees. American political discourse has up till now been rather more sympathetic to the Syrian refugees – partly due to Pope Francis’s recent visit, but probably also because the problem is much less immediate for America – resourceful though they are, the refugees have yet to find a way to cross the Atlantic ocean. However, thanks to the Paris attacks, and the rumours of a Syrian passport being found on one of the attackers, it’s now open season on refugees. The remarkably unchristian 7th day adventist Ben Carson has said America should not allow in any refugees in case they turn out to be terrorists in disguise. And Jeb Bush has suggested that they could just let the Christians in – and let the rest rot.

As is often the case, the one person who has revived my flagging faith in humanity is Barack Obama. I’ll let his words stand on their own.

“When I hear folks say that maybe we should just admit the Christians and not the Muslims (refugees), when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful. That’s not American.”



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