Paris: A Moment of Reflection

Isabelle Liao examines the Paris Attacks

Seven coordinated terrorist attacks, at least 129 deaths, hundreds wounded, and an atmosphere of fear, shock, mourning—Friday 13 November was indeed an unlucky day. The attacks, arranged by IS (Islamic State) militant group, started at 21:20 at Stade de France during a friendly between France and Germany. The bomb killed two: one suicide bomber, and one bystander. Another bomb went off in the stadium ten minutes later, at which point spectators were flooding onto the pitch in panic.

At 21:25, 15 people were killed from gunfire at Le Carillon restaurant, and at 21:32, five were killed outside Cafe Bonne Biere. 19 people died at La Belle Equipe Bar four minutes later, and at 21:40, a suicide bomber detonated his vest at Le Comptoir Voltaire restaurant. The bloodiest attack occurred at 21:40 in Bataclan Hall during an Eagles of Death Metal concert. Three gunmen indiscriminately open fire on the audience before detonating their vests. There were 89 deaths at Bataclan.

President Hollande, called for three days of national mourning; monuments around the world shone with tricolore lights; Facebook allowed users to add a French flag filter to their profile pictures; Celine Dion sang a tribute to Paris at the AMAs; our school raised over £650 for the French Red Cross. Why has there been such a reaction towards Paris? Why did buildings not light up with the Lebanese flag after the Beirut suicide bombings just the day before? Why did Facebook not launch a Lebanese flag filter, and where was the minute of silence for Beirut? This ‘selective mourning’ has caused great debate. Some believe that all mourning and political solidarity are selective, and there is no escaping this. Others mock Facebook’s French flag filter, arguing that we should mourn all deaths equally, and escape white supremacy.

Paris is, however, much closer to home—many Britons have friends and family in the city, and those who do not are still shocked by the fact that the event took place only a few hours’ train ride away. When we hear about terrorist attacks in the Middle East and North Africa, we distance ourselves from them because it is easier to remain unaffected than to descend into mourning. When these attacks happened in Paris, it is so close to home that it is hard to ignore. There is an idea that terrorism is the ‘norm’ in the Middle East, so Westerners often accept the countries’ bad news nonchalantly. The attacks are no longer the ‘norm’ when they hit Paris, and people all over the world become scared not only due to Eurocentrism, but also due to the increased probability of the attacks reaching other European countries, The United States, Asia, etc. It is like a disease: it does not bother people when in a distant country (i.e. a non-western country), but when it breaks the geographical barrier and starts to spread, people all over the world panic.

Europe was seen as a safe place compared to the Middle East, but the recent attacks have shown that no country is completely safe. IS wants to haunt civilians, and although Paris and the world are on edge, civilians cannot be consumed by fear.

Britain’s Secretary of Defence, Michael Fallon, said ‘What happened in Paris can easily happen in London. The threat to the UK is extremely high. An attack is highly likely so we have to respond’. Britain faces a dilemma regarding a military reaction. As of 29/11, Britain has not bombed IS in Syria, but this week Cameron will hold a parliamentary vote on British military action against IS. The events in Paris have definitely changed Britain’s stance towards IS, however, many anti-war protesters do not believe this change should lead to war. Supporters of the vote believe that only brute force will prevent further attacks like the tragic events in Paris.

Bombing Syria has only come up as a serious proposition after the Paris attacks, so this reiterates the question: what is the appropriate response? Perhaps now that major terrorist attacks have taken place closer to home, people will take more notice of attacks in the Middle East and other ‘faraway’ places—there will be a greater sense of humanity and understanding.

Isabelle Liao VII