It’s been a harrowing weekend.
We’ve witnessed events in Paris and Beirut that we’d rather not believe are real; the latter happening only a day after we remembered the end of world war 1 and those lives lost during past conflicts. Wars fought and lives given for the very freedom that was once again under attack in France’s capital city on Friday evening. The second time this year Paris has been subject to such grief.
The world is now engulfed in a very different kind of conflict than those terrible world wars that past generations came through and survived. When it was a clear ‘us against them’ situation, some might say it was simpler; almost easier to comprehend. You knew where you stood at least. But now?
Now those committing the atrocities might be our neighbours. Individually, they’re not really fighting for any ideology that we can understand. Some propaganda fed to them by other twisted sub-human beings might have promised them specific rewards after death, the quality of which is based on how much innocent blood they can spill in the process. Then again I suppose in their eyes, we aren’t innocent.
I’m not going to get into religious ideology. I think what’s going on here – on our side of the world and the other – is bigger and even more serious than some absurd extremist beliefs. The real issue I believe is one we will only see when the next generation observes our situation with the benefit of hindsight and context.
Right now the Western response to this crisis – and it is indeed very much at crisis point by now – is to tighten security. Close off the borders. Let no one leave or enter without the appropriate, increasingly stringent checks. If the terrorists wanted to make life feel just a little more awkward, a little more fearful and apprehensive for us, they’ve already succeeded to some extent. And that won’t stop them from trying again – testing just how far they can push.
No one yet seems to be looking at the bigger picture. Asking the obvious – yet at the same time, more uncomfortable – questions. Often our problem in the West has been turning a bit of a blind eye to certain things building up in the Middle East. I’m not just talking politically. I’m talking about the fundamental way in which we live our lives. One can’t deny that we, in Europe and the US, are much more… liberal in certain things. We rightly embrace the freedoms our soldiers fought and died for over the last century; but we do so often without pausing to consider other countries and entire regions in the world who do not yet have those same freedoms – without considering how our freedom could somehow be twisted to look negative, in the hands of a twisted individual who perhaps knows how to get others dancing to their tune. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is an overused phrase, but I fear for many of us in Western society, it has too often turned out to be true as we enjoy our own hard-earned freedom.
The attacks on Paris Friday evening exploited the fact that it is traditionally the first night of the weekend; a night when people feel free to go out and relax, having worked hard for that right all week long. It was a night when the France football team were playing one of their last ‘friendly’ matches before the country hosts Euro 2016 next summer. This was a typical Friday night in Paris; the capital city of a proud country preparing to host the next major European sporting event. In many ways, Europe’s cultural centrepiece. Paris is a top tourist destination for anyone, no matter where you live in the world.
That is why these particular attacks have garnered so much more attention than other similar atrocities happening in the world. Even over the past week there will have been horrific incidents elsewhere that the media hasn’t reported as much on and we therefore haven’t cared so much about. For a lot of people, this felt much closer to home. The scale of the attack, the death toll was greater than any of us could have imagined when we first heard the news trickling in. I was keeping up with the football updates through the BBC live text service at the time. When news first broke that there had been an attack, it seemed there was only a small number of casualties. It seemed an isolated, though sad and unfortunate incident. But those who organised this whole thing clearly wanted to make a big impact; possibly one that would reverberate through to next summer’s tournament.
It’s been slightly heartening in the face of this tragedy to see that likely won’t be the case; that France is determined not to cower in fear, but to continue on as they would, in honour of the victims. That, I’m sure, is what they all would have wanted; for their great country to grasp the opportunity next summer to be involved in positive headlines once again.
On the other hand, security will now be heightened. Paranoia will now be slightly raised. It will take some time for the anger and grief to begin to subside. I don’t wish to detract from those things. We are right to be angry about this situation and interested in the possible measures that may have helped us prevent it. As I’ve said though, I suspect those necessary measures are somewhat more complicated than simply eradicating IS.
Extremism will continue to exist in some form unless we begin to look at its root causes and ask what part we may have played in creating them. What we can do to help prevent it from occurring again in future, rather than retreating to defence mode and attacking only when this extremism inevitably interferes with our personal lives.
I dream, like many others, of seeing a world in which everyone is free to choose how they live. Free of those who want to control and manipulate them; free to express themselves by having access to top quality education that encourages free thinking and inclusion; free to enjoy themselves without having to worry about someone wanting to murder them.
I grieve as much as everyone else right now; though I don’t feel much of a pull to get involved in the social media campaigns that Western social justice warriors try to kickstart. These attacks in Paris shouldn’t only represent an opportunity to start a new ‘trend’ or ‘hashtag’. THINK about why this happened. Think about what you can really contribute to helping stop it from happening again. It’s not about simply increasing security so we can safeguard and enjoy our privileges. It’s not about merely ‘praying for’ or saying our ‘thoughts go out to’ the victims and their families. There will be more victims unless we start to properly look at ourselves as well as those attacking us. I’m pretty sure everyone could put more thought into it than just clicking ‘like’ and ‘share’.