Graphic by Zoe Hu/The Gazelle

Paris: Today is Tomorrow’s History

Last night, Paris was rocked by seven separate attacks. "Carnage, carnage, carnage," cried every other media source. I arrived at my French ...

Nov 14, 2015

Graphic by Zoe Hu/The Gazelle
Last night, Paris was rocked by seven separate attacks. "Carnage, carnage, carnage," cried every other media source. I arrived at my French host-family’s home in disarray. Silently, tensely, we watched the news alone and together. Without thinking, the first thing I said was, “If this is my people, I am so, so, so sorry.” My beautiful French mum hugged me and said, “No, no, no, no, we don’t think that, we don’t think that.” We did not sleep much or talk much; between tears, frantic phone calls and more tears, we desolately terminated this nightmare of a night and parted to our rooms.
As I sat in my room, I realized the mistake I had committed: “My people." At the same time, scrolling down my Facebook feed, I felt uneasy with the hegemonic response, "Pray for Paris." These defensive and reactionist approaches not only subscribe to the us-versus-them construct, but also detract from the complexity of the situation. The reality on the ground is not as polarized as we make it out to be; this is no my-people-versus-Paris situation.
And then the political statements and speeches came pouring in. French politicians and U.S. presidential candidates made statements about heightened security and freshly declared wars on ISIS. In the moment, these statements seem justified. But where will this rhetoric lead? How many times have we been in a history class and scoffed at one conflict or another for its explosive, incoherent origins? It is quite a luxury to look at history in retrospect. But what happens when history is unfolding before your eyes? When there is no time or space for retrospect, can you act? Should you act? What can you say? And does it even matter?
While we are “Praying for Paris” and filtering our Facebook profile pictures, powerful politicians are planning their next raid on the less visible locations that we will not hear about, let alone pray for. An amazing professor of mine once told me that when you think of an idea, you should always consider its roots and implications. Sure enough, “Pray for Paris” seems neutral and uncontroversial enough. But the actions that ride its wave may remove vulnerable entities from visibility and turn them into victims of a seemingly endless cycle of violence.
Let us grant ourselves the luxury of retrospect. How will we look at these events in ten years? Speaking for myself, I wish that my approach to mourning is one that will promote solidarity rather than normalize state violence and render less visible the suffering of others. Collective mourning and global solidarity are powerful harbors of social mobility. Let us reinforce them with conscientious and forward-thinking ways of grieving.
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