How NOT To Respond To The Paris Attacks

Posted on November 14, 2015 in GlobeScope, Staff Picks

By Shambhavi Saxena

“There were terrorist shootings close to my place. I’m scared as shit.” I woke up to this message from a friend currently studying at SciencesPo, Paris.

It was Friday night in the French capital when terror attacks hit a series of key spots in the city – the Bataclan concert hall, a bar outside the city’s main football stadium, the restaurants Le Petit Cambodge and Le Carillon, and La Belle Equipe bar. Presently, the death toll has risen to 120, according to Paris prosecutor Francois Molins, as more people succumb to fatal injuries.

Coming nearly a year after the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the #ParisAttacks’ scale and carnage bear an eerie resemblance to the Mumbai terror plot of 2008. In other words, to Indians, it’s not as distant an event, because we’ve been through this before. Obviously, everyone wants terror out, and peace in. But while this human tragedy deserves our full support and help in whatever way we can offer it, we also have to be wary of how we respond, and in specific I mean the blame game that’s already bubbling over.

As with the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo, we are witnessing a mass outpouring of solidarity messages from members of the global Muslim community, and each message goes a little bit like this:

Muslims are having to suffix their messages of support by defending themselves and their religion, because they are terrified of being held accountable for the actions of the murderers:

Many have gone online to disassociate themselves from terror outfits, and with good reason, because some American and European people really need it spelt out for them – ‘Muslim’ is not equal to ‘Terrorist’.

Take Ann Coulter, for instance, political commentator and Donald Trump supporter. Here’s how she responded to the killings:

Oh but it’s not just here. Islamophobia seems to be the default setting for the average American.

What’s worse is how closely the responses of Muslim individuals themselves are being monitored! If they don’t condemn the attacks, then they are tacitly encouraging them. If they do condemn the attacks, then they come off as “opportunistic”, apparently!

And even in the face of genuine concern for the kind of misguided, uninformed vitriol that the global Muslim population is about to receive, there’s this:

The way we respond to the Paris Attacks, and to the Lebanon bombings, reveals something about us, our priorities, and the ease with which we can be manipulated into feeling, or not feeling, the grief of a people. We immediately jump to the conclusion, as many did after 26/11, that Islam is a breeding ground for terror. But we often to turn a blind eye to upper-caste and communal violence in our own country. We also wouldn’t call the Ku Klux Klan and the white shooters of Columbine and Isla Vista ‘terrorists’, because even though that word now has religious connotations, it is never Christian, never Hindu, never Jewish.

Often we’ll argue that ‘Muslim terrorists’ aim to rip apart the Western world, but what explanation do we give for when the IS (Islamic State) attacked a Shia neighbourhood in Beirut, Lebanon not two days ago? Or the suicide bombing in Baghdad, Iraq? Or the Syrian refugee crises? But hey, I guess nobody wanted to talk about those war-torn, unglamorous places to begin with anyway. Often, we’ll try to argue that the IS is the terror mouthpiece for an entire religion and ethnicity falls flat, when, as the Hindustan Times reports, “about half of all European [IS] recruits are from France.”

When we make these arguments, when we think we’re being incisive and political and involved, we need to step back, and maybe think about what actor Mark Ruffalo has said:

And remember, also, that:

The way we respond to the #ParisAttacks will tell us more about our prejudices and our hatreds and the little terrorisms we hold in our hearts, more than it will tell us about our will to end global terror.