One thing is sure: the attacks on Charlie Hebdo raise many questions and uncertainty about how we will all move forward.
Living in Paris, the last week has been tragic.
Wednesday’s attacks on the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo put the city into a state of mourning, many gathering in the evenings at Place de la République to pay their respects to the slain.
There are many things to say about last week’s events, many things to analyze. One thing is sure: there is no right answer, no right policy for moving forward. If we are to find an answer, it will only be a complex, multifaceted one. Because the Charlie Hebdo attacks are not the only attacks that took place in the last week. On the same day as the Charlie Hebdo attack, around four dozen were killed by a car bomb in Yemen. Several days later, an attack in Nigeria left so many dead the number was unknown. Amnesty has estimated that it is in the thousands.
Of course, we mourn things that we have a proximity to, be it geographical or personal. We can be in the place of an attack, or live close by. Or we can know someone in a place that has been attacked. We can have friends and family there. Or the place of attack can be a place that we have visited and loved, certainly the case when it comes to Paris.
For me, living in Paris meant watching a city work its way through trauma and fear. A tension hung over the city until the attackers were eventually killed last Friday. It was hard to concentrate on anything else.
When millions gathered in Paris on Sunday, I joined them. It was intended to be a march, but the mass of people made my own experience more of a “stand,” crammed into the street with thousands around me, so many that it was hard to move. People held signs, chanted and clapped. They sung “La Marseillaise.”
I couldn’t help but wonder if millions would come out for those slain Nigerians. Unfortunately, I think we all know the answer. For most of us our proximity, both geographical and personal, is nonexistent for the attacks that happen around the world on a regular basis, and so they don’t get the same reaction, the same coverage and the same attention that others like Charlie Hebdo do. But that of course doesn’t make them any less important. As Teju Cole wrote in the New Yorker, “we may not be able to attend each outrage in every corner of the world, but we should at least pause to consider how it is that mainstream opinion is so quickly decides that certain violent deaths are more meaningful, and more worthy of commemoration, than others.”
Personally, yesterday I gathered in the streets of Paris because it was all I knew how to do. After a week of tragedy, I was searching for answers, searching for some way to move forward. Gathering with the rest of the city was a way to do that. It was a personal way to take a stand against violence and racism. I do not believe hate is the answer, and if there’s anything that we can do to move forward it’s to focus on tolerance. I am sure that I stood next to people who didn’t have the same political leanings that I do, and probably wouldn’t choose the same policies moving forward. But at least for one day, we agreed on the fact that hate and terror are terrible things.
This tragedy will eventually fade from our minds, and unfortunately, we’ll go back to politics as usual. There has been talk of a French Patriot Act – similar to what was enacted post 9/11. There’s no denying that the far right in France will continue to rise, and many will make this tragedy into a black and white issue of the Western World versus everyone else.
But we live in a world of many shades of gray, and if we look to find answers in the midst of terror, we are sure to choose the simple ones, that will only have more detrimental effects down the line.
Let us all remember that human lives are all equally valuable, no matter where they come from or what they look like. Let us build a world of tolerance, because we all deserve to live without fear.
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Images: Anna Brones