What we can learn from the Paris attacks

What we can learn from the Paris attacks

photo by Jean Jullien

On Friday, November 13, I found myself feeling more completely and utterly helpless than I’ve ever felt in my life. On Friday, November 13, I found myself unable to comprehend the terrorist attacks that shook Paris, the second deadliest terrorist attack on a Western city since 9/11.

Though the wound is still fresh, there has been some time to sort through the initial emotions from the events that transpired that night. We can take a step back now and look at the reactions of others and see how that night will affect all of our futures. We can focus on moving forward and recovering.

For many of us, it’s hard to truly understand the sheer impact of these attacks because they didn’t happen here. We don’t really know anybody who might be affected. If this had taken place in our own country’s capital, we would have reacted much differently because it would have hit close to home.

After the attacks, many people said things they would never have said if America had been attacked. Many politicians took advantage of the suffering of millions to further their political agenda. Many celebrities offered their own hot takes, fueled by speculation. As the attacks were still unfolding, many people blamed the victims, France, the EU, the diverse, mostly tolerant culture, and Muslims. Although no one had yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, many were quick to accuse others.

Had this happened in our own home, in D.C., in New York, in Los Angeles, in one of our own cities, we would have never reacted in this way. We would never have been so quick to issue blame or point fingers at the victims. All we would have wanted was sympathy and help.

Fortunately, there was still an outpouring of those offering their support. Many other celebrities and politicians used their platform to spread compassion and sympathy. Twitter flooded with people tweeting #PrayForParis, and many Parisians used #PorteOuverte (which translates to “open door”) to let other Parisians know their home was available for anybody who was seeking safety or refuge from the attacks. Facebook rolled out their new “I’m safe” feature for their users in Paris to let their friends know they were alright during the attacks. The drawing of the Eiffel Tower inside the peace sign by Jean Jullien became the Internet’s symbol of solidarity.

Since that night, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. At least 129 people died as a result of this act of terrorism, and 352 more are injured, with 99 in critical condition. The identity of several of the attackers, as well as the 129 victims, have been named. France called this an act of war and responded with massive airstrikes in Syria. This is, apparently, just the beginning.

I witnessed an unusual polarization that night and the days that followed. While the attacks were unfolding, all I could think about was just how truly terrible humans could be, how evil and disgusting some of us are. There were, and still are, no words to describe just how truly heinous those responsible for this are. However, after the attacks, all I could think about was just how truly wonderful humans could be, how compassionate and loving some of us are. We witnessed two opposite extremes as a result of this act of terror: humans at their absolute worst and humans at their absolute best.

As sickening as the attacks were, it was genuinely beautiful how the world came together to support France. Monuments and landmarks from all across the globe lit up to reflect the French flag. During Army’s college football game on Saturday, one of the players came out bearing the French flag, and many other NFL players did the same on Sunday. Saturday Night Live, which always opens their show with a comedic skit, opened instead with a solemn monologue, spoken in both English and French, offering their support.

As ISIS tried to tear our world apart, we stood strong together.

As we focus on recovery, there is plenty we can take from this. We have seen how completely beautiful and good humans can be, even in the face of extreme evil.  We’ve seen the power of unity and unwavering support.

We must also remember in this time that the actions of a few do not reflect a whole group. ISIS is the enemy here, not Muslims.

The goal of terrorism is, as its name would suggest, to instill terror. It does not advance any religion, or political group, or ideology. It instills terror. Although terror gripped much of the world Friday night, the terror has since gave way to courage, to unity, to hope, to a light inside all of us that refuses to be put out.

This is not the end. The events that follow will likely shape our lives forever, but we must know that we will win. We proved that on November 13. The loss of human life is always a tragedy, and though we lost many lives that night, we still stood taller than ever and refused to back down. We won Friday night. We will continue to win. As long as we continue to stand in solidarity, we will always be stronger than the fear they try to instill. Peace will win and fear will lose.

Nous devons être solidaires.