By Joe Cook and Finn Boyle – Edited by Eloise McMinn Mitchell and Catherine Lally
Returning home from a night in Geneva, the news filtered through of an attack in Paris. Yet as I fell asleep, the seriousness of the carnage across the city of love was not clear. It wasn’t until the next morning that we all realised the extent of the horror. 129 innocent people dead and 352 injured – 99 critically: killed at random by extremists in the name of religion. While we mourn the terrible loss of life and look at how we can prevent similar attacks in the future, we must stand strong and show that we will not be divided, nor give in to terror.
The horrific attacks on Friday night in Paris represent a change of target by ISIS militants. Although the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish market in Paris in January of this year were shocking, they were aimed at small groups of people. Due to this, most of us, deep down, did not truly fear for our own safety. However, with the indiscriminate and seemingly random targeting on Friday, it looks like ISIS is now aiming to disrupt our daily lives and sow mass fear into the public.
Already the impact of these attacks on our everyday lives is taking hold. The cancellation of shows by U2, Coldplay and the Foo Fighters is an example of this. This cannot be the way we react to such events. The terrorists were attacking our values, our freedoms. Cancelling shows isn’t a sign of solidarity or mourning. It shows that we have conceded defeat. We have given this group of psychopaths exactly what they want: a step away from the liberal, Western values we hold so dear.
After every terrorist attack there are conflicting claims that one political party or another is attempting to politicise the tragedy. Just hours after the attacks, Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump spoke; claiming that if people had been carrying firearms, then fewer would have been killed. Marine le Pen’s far-right National Front will inevitably grow in support, as fear leads to a search for radical answers. This is exactly what ISIS want; they would be delighted to see European societies collapse into warring factions. Nevertheless, we must stand strong and not turn to extremism ourselves.
After attacks like this, carried out by terrorists claiming to fight in the name of Islam, it is inevitable that there will be increased Islamophobia. Yet what many fail to see is that it is this anti-Islamic rhetoric that is pushing more muslims into the realms of extremism. A study in The Economist in January showed that as of 2013, 56% of French respondents to the survey said that Islam was not compatible with the West, with 59% of Swiss and 47% of British respondents concurring. While there can be no justification for the horrific acts committed in Paris, we must look at how we can prevent the radicalisation of young Muslims and prevent more joining groups such as ISIS.
The reports that a Syrian passport had been found on one of the attackers at the Bataclan was met with horror by all those who believe that it is our moral duty to accept refugees into Europe. However it must also be noted that many of the attackers are reported to be European citizens and that this is the very same extremist ideology and violence the refugees are fleeing. We should take this moment to be grateful that we live in a society where atrocities such as these are relatively few and far between.
There are those who say that we should turn on the refugees and migrants. ‘They have destroyed their region!’, they claim, ‘Now they will destroy ours!’. It is argued that these two blocs, Middle East and Europe, have been fighting for millennia. However, they need only look at the displays of solidarity in London. The Tower Bridge was lit up with the French tricolour. A mere two hundred years previously, the UK fought its hardest to destroy the tricolour and all with which it was associated. Now, though, they show it in a celebration of French values: liberté, égalité et fraternité. Times have changed and these nations who were once bitter foes are now loyal friends. Enemies are never forever.
We must not ‘clamp down’ on areas where these terrorist originate. Hate only breeds hate. We must remember that if we are to advance, we must not judge all by the actions of the few. The reason these people turned to such violent acts was because they felt the nation they attacked, France, was attacking them as well. They felt that they were shunned, and discriminated against. They began to retaliate in the most vile way possible, because they felt they were hated. The West cannot play victim when it invades the Middle East and the Middle East strikes back. They have been hurt, and seek revenge.
This does not mean the attacks are excusable – violence never is. Rather, it means that the French government should not beef up police presence in neighbourhoods where these terrorists tend to come from. It is imperative that France reaches out to troubled youths, instead of vilifying them as muslim extremists who refuse to comply with Western society.
It remains to be seen how Western powers will react to the attacks. In the aftermath of the disaster, French President Françoise Hollande labelled the attacks an “act of war”. He vowed that France will be merciless in its response to the Islamic State militants,” and would “use all means within the law … on every battleground here and abroad, together with our allies”. While this could just be a political statement, a moment when Hollande had to adopt a hardline stance in the face of a national emergency, it could hint at a change in foreign policy from France and her allies. This could include the scaling up of military intervention by NATO in Syria and Northern Iraq – a very controversial move with the precedent of disastrous Iraqi and Libyan interventions.
In the aftermath of the attacks, many pointed out how the world stood in solidarity for the dead French, but stayed silent when similar attacks happened in Baghdad and Beirut. We must remember that these people matter just as much as the dead French; but at the same time, we shouldn’t be angry at people showing solidarity for the fallen French, as we would be removing significance from their deaths as well. We must show solidarity for all lives, whether the people be White, Arab, Bengali, Han, Muslim, Christian, Hindu or otherwise.
We are reminded of the French motto after the attacks, “liberté, égalité, fraternité”. Liberty, for the dignity of all humans. Equality, for the way we should treat all humans, so as to prevent these atrocities from occurring. Fraternity, for how we should react no matter who is hurt. While we should not forget the lives of the Lebanese or Iraqis lost in similar attacks, we shouldn’t forget the French values that were lost as well.
People have died. Although we should think twice before ploughing into another war and calling ourselves heroes, change is certainly needed to combat the spread of violent extremism. In spite of the fact it is uncertain how and when ISIS will be defeated, we must all stand firm and united in the face of those who threaten our values.
This was a dark day for humanity. This isn’t just a question of freedom, this is a question of people turning on their own kind to try and scare others. We hope for humanity’s sake that we think carefully about how we should react before jumping to conclusions.
In a show of solidarity with all those killed and injured this weekend the Student Council has asked that we all wear black tomorrow. We hope that you all take part in this small but meaningful show of respect.
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