I remember how in the aftermath of 9-11, I felt a sense of powerlessness, anger and dread. The atrocity in Paris has reawakened those feelings. I walked down the street this morning on my way to the Abingdon Square farmer’s market with a sense of foreboding. I looked at other passersby suspiciously. Though Paris is across the ocean, I did not feel safe: the sense that logic and cause and effect are no longer relevant in the world, that terrible things can happen for no good reason, plagued me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the destructive effect of random violence on innocent people, whether it comes from a foreign or domestic terrorist, a school shooter or a government.
What exactly is that effect? It is the overpowering sense that we and our children can be harmed at any moment and in any place–and that no one outside our little circle of family and friends is to be trusted. That in essence is the goal of these terrorist acts. To make us feel that there is no such thing as safety or comfort. That we are vulnerable no matter where we are, be it in a restaurant, at a concert hall, in a school, at our place of work, wherever. Soon we may have to pass through metal detectors to enter a restaurant or the subway. I wish I were kidding.
I understand the paranoia and the precautionary measures that will inevitably be put in place. But that too terrifies and angers me. It plays right into the hands of those who would do us harm, who want nothing more than for us to implode, to set upon one another and compromise the very qualities that make us free–a freedom for whom many sacrificed their lives. The social fabric that holds us together is built on trust and a sense that in general people mean well and do not want to hurt us. But it is fragile. Look at how we are already coming apart at the seams.
In our own country, right wing zealots tweeted out reactions last night and today, contrasting what happened in Paris to the protests taking place on college campuses, making light of the protesting students’ need for “a safe place,” by calling them a bunch of whiners, etc., as if what happened in Paris somehow negates their feelings of disenfranchisement.
This too plays into the hands of terrorist groups, who are able to recruit willing accomplices by supplying them with a way to transfer their feelings of powerlessness and rage onto someone else–namely the rest of us.
We are in a battle for hearts and minds, and every drone attack that kills innocent people helps us lose that battle. The downtrodden and disenfranchised peoples of this world are easy targets for radicalization when they see us condemning their religion as a whole, without regard to the fact that most of them are good people just like we are. In fact, by acting as if these radical fanatics reflect Islam any more accurately than radical Tea Partiers or the Weather Underground reflect the mainstream of America, we have already lost the biggest battle. Even as we mourn this horrific tragedy, let us not simplify it or turn it into political fodder for dividing ourselves further. Let’s unite and be strong and make sure that our own freedoms are not compromised. Freedom comes with risk and at a price. Let’s not dishonor those who have given up their lives to defend it by forgetting that or giving in to fear.