“Just to let you guys know, there was some sort of terrorist attack or shooting in Paris, and I’m fine.”
This was the status update through which I found out about the Paris attacks. I was sitting in the lobby of my hostel in London, attempting to harness Wi-Fi Friday night when suddenly a flurry of statuses from 10-15 of my study abroad friends visiting Paris that weekend popped up through my newsfeed. They were statuses telling stories of trauma, verifying safety and pleading for prayer.
The next few hours were filled with worried check-ins, catastrophic television images and preliminary news articles. Over the next day, the situation would continue to develop as the rest of the world became aware of the senseless tragedy that had taken place. I flew back to Bilbao early Sunday morning carrying a mixture of confusion and sadness in my heart.
I felt lucky to have decided to experience the magic of Paris earlier on in the semester, and my status as a study abroad student in Spain had allowed me to do so with ease. Yet, I think that being in Europe at the time of the attacks caused me to be affected differently than I would have been if I were home at USC.
Not only do I receive the American end of the conversation through social media and communication with my parents and friends, but Bilbao’s physical proximity to Paris has also created an added layer of discussion, as well as anxiety.
My mom has told me that she would prefer that I stop all my travels for the rest of the semester. My host mom has told me that she plans on canceling her holiday travel plans and staying put, and she recommended I do the same. We turn on the television during every meal to be greeted by new developments, proposed strategies by members of the European Union, or newscasts showing clips of propagandistic videos created by the Islamic State. “Locos,” sighs my host mom. “Crazies.”
I have had moments where I’ve felt a bit overwhelmed. I’ve felt fear that such radicalism could exist, organized and well-funded and powerful enough to commit such a massacre, without an end near in sight.
But fear is precisely what ISIS operates on, and feeds off of. Fear is the exact
mechanism through which terrorists seek control.
As important dialogues about Euro-centric media coverage unfold, including proper responses towards terrorism (read: not Islamophobia), and empathy toward refugees, it’s essential to keep educating ourselves. It’s not easy. I myself have a lot of difficulty fully understanding the complexities of the Islamic State, while also thinking about effective ways to balance security with humanitarian aid. I have great difficulty thinking of concrete ways to help.
But I think it’s of the utmost importance to keep trying. After all, complacency, ignorance and fear are the forces that foundationally keep terrorism and prejudice alive. This is not the time for divisiveness.
This is the time for compassion. This is the time for bravery. This is the time for solidarity against an attack on humanity, because je suis Paris. We are all Paris.