I know that I cannot express my thoughts on the attacks in Paris one week ago more eloquently than many who have already spoken. How much more simply and honestly can fear be expressed and then reconciled than in the conversation between Angel Le and his son? How much more determination and grief can be conveyed than in the letter to ISIS of Antoine Leiris, who lost his wife at Bataclan? Still, I am compelled to go on record.
Like the rest of the world, I have been appalled and grief-stricken. What could ever spur any human being to execute scores of innocent people defies any explanation I can find. Religious zeal, feigned or real, cannot account for it. Nor can idealogical indoctrination explain acts that display the worst in humanity. Left with incomprehension, I am trying to sift through the commentaires as well as the emotions, the values, the information and the misinformation shrouded therein. Responses fall into three categories.
On one front, I hear aggression. More violence. French President François Hollande says France is at war. His words remind me of the “war on terror” George W. Bush declared after the 9/11 attacks of 2001. Fourteen years later, that war continues.
In response to terrorist acts like the murders in Paris, some individuals have opted to circle the wagons. If suicide bombers killed Parisians, some conclude, then Syrian refugees are suspect, and immigration needs to be curtailed, if not stopped altogether. Thirty-one American states will refuse refuge to Syrians. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has called on Prime Minister Trudeau to “suspend your current plan to bring 25 000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year” and indicates that “Saskatchewan will be fully supportive of any delays in resettling Syrian refugees in order to ensure appropriate screening and security checks.” Yet, two of the attackers are from Belgium, three from France, and one is a French resident of Belgium. One may be a Syrian—a Syrian passport, yet to be authenticated, was found next to his body. The association of Syrians with terrorists contributes to xenophobia, however unwittingly. In Canada, a mosque was set afire in Peterborough, and a Muslim woman attacked in Toronto. Aggression elicits aggression in an infinite cycle of violence.
In contrast, rather than fear, I see courage and hope. Parisians continue to frequent sidewalk cafés, and gather in public places. A father tells his son that peace prevails: terrorists might have guns, but others have flowers and candles. In Regina, seventy-five people demonstrate in front of the Saskatchewan legislature in support of Syrian refugees. A couple scales down their wedding so they can help strangers. Calgary mayor Nenshi says the city is ready to accept up to 2 300 refugees. Community and religious organizations moblilize to welcome groups of refugees in their midst. These people refuse to allow the violence of deranged individuals to compromise their own values and ideals. They refuse to become what they despise. They realize that self-imposed restrictions on their way of life and their view of the world as a result of terror play right into the hands of ISIS, as Adam Taylor of the Washington Post writes in his column. Like Antoine Leiris, they refuse to give ISIS that satisfaction.
Just yesterday, in a novel and lucid analysis on “Q”, Samira Ouadi, a Parisian social scientist, expressed her own views on terrorism. She is particularly focused on the common traits of jihadists. Not Islam, she says, nor culture. Youth, she emphasizes. The jidhadists are all young, very young. The question, she says, is this: “What are we doing to our youth so that a part of it feels that, to express its identity, it has to go that far?” Disaffected youth, she suggests, neglected by their own societies, seek a future in terrorist groups. Jihad is the new drug culture.
Out of all these sometimes disparate thoughts, a few things are clear. I, too, must act. So far, I have allowed my work as a teacher and my investment in my children to carry my duty to society. Now, though, as a retired person, I must do more. What can “more” look like?
· Continue to invest in people: youth, people in my own community facing challenges, and the refugee from abroad.
· Speak out. Provide a perspective, share information, point out fallacies, remind myself and others of essential truths as I perceive them, whether people agree or not.
· Stay the course. Choose trust tempered with awareness, not naiveté. Be kind. Be inclusive. Stick to my travel plans. Refuse to become hateful, or vengeful, or suspicious as a result of actions whose purpose is exactly to make me hateful, vengeful, and suspicious, and to use examples of that hate, vengeance and suspicion as evidence to support horror.
I have a voice. I have time. I have abilities. To be on record, my actions must complement my words.