I preface this article by making it clear that I’m not a journalist. I was not at the 11th arrondissement of Paris last night to watch the madness of the worst terrorist attack in France since World War II unfold before my eyes.
That being said, I don’t think I have much to contribute to this story journalistically. Like most of you, I was simply going about my daily business when I first learned of the attacks. I watched chaos and carnage rend the streets of the ville lumière with a heavy heart, from the security of my own living room.
To summarize: the death toll stands at around 129 people. Most of them were killed at the Bataclan concert hall, where American rock band, The Eagles of Death Metal were performing. There was an explosion near the Stade de France, as French and German national teams were playing a soccer match.
As of 2:00 p.m. today, one American, a 23-year-old exchange student from the California State University, Long Beach, has been reported among the dead.
French President François Hollande pledged to “lead a fight which will be pitiless” against those responsible. He considered Friday night’s events to be an “act of war” carried out by a jihadist army. ISIS rejoiced at the violence unfolding in Paris, and claimed responsibility for organizing the attacks.
So much for my foray into secondhand journalism. Other sources who were actually present in Paris at the time of the attacks can provide a far better synopsis of events than I can. I consider my task here to provide perspective and analysis rather than to report on the events themselves.
Without further ado, and with profound thanks to the journalists covering these attacks who have made my writing on this subject possible, I begin.
It hardly needs to be argued that human beings are morally ambiguous. Any newspaper, on any given day, will provide stories that shock us with a demonstration of ordinary people’s capacity for evil.
On Thursday, the day immediately preceding last night’s attacks, I picked up a copy of the Washington Post’s free Express newspaper during my commute home. The 14th page ran a story with the headline, “Boy, 8, charged in toddler’s murder.”
The article discussed an eight-year-old boy who had been left in charge of five other children while his mother and her friend were out at a nightclub beat an infant of 17 months to death.
Hours before the attacks in Paris on Friday, another suicide bombing in southern Beirut left 41 dead and over 200 wounded. On the same day, in Baghdad, a suicide blast and a roadside bomb killed 26 and wounded several dozens. The Islamic State likewise claimed responsibility for both of these attacks.
Pause for a moment, please.
The events of the past 48 hours, which have unfolded on a global scale, should force us at this point to reckon with ourselves.
Who, or what, are we, as a human race, when we are capable of doing these things?
I think that as westerners, we are guilty of overlooking calamities when they don’t take place within our own backyard. The attacks in Paris received ample media coverage, compared to barely any for the bombings in Beirut and Baghdad.
If President Obama was right in saying that the attacks on Paris were an attack against humanity as a whole, why has the same solidarity not been extended to the people of Iraq and Lebanon, who find themselves in consistently more immediate danger to the threats posed by terrorism?
We have some daunting work to do.
In France, President Hollande has declared a three-day national period of mourning for the victims of the attacks in Paris. Lebanon likewise called for a national day of mourning on Friday. In Baghdad, where terrorist attacks are practically a part of day-to-day life, the same response seems unlikely.
The world as a whole now has to contend with the threat of global terror, and with a human race who can commit these atrocities. There must be time for healing, consolation and painful reflection.
In the midst of these horrendous calamities, however, the human spirit proves that it is not bereft of nobility.
As they evacuated the Stade de France, football fans sang the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” as a show of resilience and solidarity. Amidst the bloodshed and carnage, people were offering shelter to those on the streets of Paris by means of the twitter hashtag #porteouverte.
Although it’s clear that humans are capable of egregious acts of violence like those that have hit Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, these moments of crisis nevertheless demonstrate that there remains ample goodness within the human psyche.
As a thinker and writer, I want to believe above all else that our virtues can triumph over our vices, that people can transcend divisive categories and proclaim themselves to be human, first and foremost, and that we succeed at long last in finding this concept that I’ve been considering for some time—human solidarity.
Time will either corroborate or falsify my hopes. For now, I along with the rest of the world, reflect, mourn and stand alongside both the slain and those who must now face life without them.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jeroen Bennink’s Flickr account.
Horus Alas is senior philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.