Sunday, November 15, 2015


I want to write about the attacks in Paris, but like everyone, I'm not sure how I would start. I don't know if I'm brave enough.

I woke up this morning, and wanted to change my profile picture on Facebook to black, but instead chose a peace sign with the Eiffel Tower in it. As the day wore on, the conversation on social media became about how the reaction to Paris was an over-reaction and racist, as people did not have the same reaction to the deaths of people in countries that were majority other than white. An article started circulating about a shooting of Christians in Kenya as verification as if it happened today, though it happened in April. I changed my profile picture to black.

I feel like there are places we do not expect coordinated terrorist bombings, while it's awful to think there are places in the world we would. Everyone's symbol of love, light, romance and champagne isn't that place. It's closer to home.  I'm sure race is a factor, as is economics, as is Western centrism.  All these things.  And suddenly my reaction to this horrible event felt like it was wrong, that I was doing something wrong by feeling horrible about this particular bombing because it happened in a European nation. I do believe that if coordinated bombings happened in Tokyo, or Mexico City, or Santiago, or Moscow, we would feel the same. Although I don't know. Paris is a place of fantasy. It's also a place this has happened before. An airport bomb in 1984 was the reason I didn't go on a summer study program to France my junior year.  A friend of mine did go, and had a wonderful time.  The news today included a junior from Cal State Long Beach who was spending her year abroad in Paris, and was killed at a cafe.

I do feel awful about the shootings in Kenya in April. I feel more awful that I don't know that I even saw the news when it happened. Or that these happen at such a rate that it doesn't register more than a "That's horrible." That's even more terrible. So I feel awful and terrible and none of that is doing anything.  What's more apparent to me, after the chatter on social media, is that we have an entire region of the world in which we just expect violence.  The bombings in Beirut were brought up today, and a friend said, "When I think of Beirut, I think of bombs."  That is the most upsetting piece.  We do not expect it in Paris, but we expect in Beirut - ironically the city that used to be called the Paris of Middle East. I don't think that we don't feel bad. I'm also not sure what feeling bad does. But for the moment that bland three letter word is about as specific as I can get. I also don't want to feel guilty for feeling bad; that does even less.

Last night I was working for a non-profit that does work in education for at-risk, poor youth.  Several of us, in separate conversations, knew there was a need to address the bombings. It was decided that it would be in the invocation, and the woman who spoke beautifully asked us all to hold space, and to have a moment of silence. It was simple, eloquent, and it reminded me that these moments are big for all of us. The silence in a large group was a balm. Social media today was probably not the place. Or who knows - maybe that's the point of it and the perfect place.

When September 11th happened, after walking through the lunar landscape outside the trade center and finally getting on to a train home covered in ash, a young woman started a conversation with me on the train, probably out of proximity and need to speak. She said one of her parents was Palestinian and the other Israeli, and we should have expected something like this sooner. I didn't have a response except to say that might be true and something to talk about, but maybe on the train right after a terrorist attack was not the best place.  All of the conversation needs to happen (except for the Right's assertion that people carrying guns would have made a difference - that's actively stupid and insensitive), but perhaps the moment is not at that moment. Perhaps what we could do is hold space. And grieve for the lives, and the complication. Maybe in that pause, we'll find some peace.

Looking at this it sounds like even saying, "let's wait a second" is silencing others. That's not my intent, either. It feels so sticky. It's one part racism, one part cynicism that we have places we expect violence, and one part media coverage. And a large, upsetting conversation that feels insoluble. Even articulating this feels like I will be called out for privilege. I'm self-censoring.

As I was walking to this cafe to just get out of my house,  I was at a loss at how to tackle any of this, even to think or write something about it.  I passed a homeless man sleeping under a blanket next to a tree shading him and his overturned shopping cart, which became something else to pile on  to the misery; another insoluble problem. Just at that moment, a man passed by me with a box from the bakery heading toward the man on the ground and asked, "Hey man, you hungry?" A little space opened. That's what we can do. Ask, offer, act. Witnessing that gave me a little hope. I'll try to do something that would do the same, and hold some space.


Elizabeth said...

Thank you for articulating all this conflict so beautifully, honestly and completely. I believe "holding space," and witnessing are essential. What more can we do? Opine? When I don't think it's all insane, I like to believe that peace and love actually ARE the only things that matter and that terrorists can't really take them away unless you let them.

Criticlasm said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. I struggle with that, too. I don't know what more to do except awareness, voting, and organizing. But it's asking how to fight against insanity on some level. If people are willing to kill, what can we do but continue to live in spite of it. I do think every bow to fear is a loss, and a win for those who would like to create terror and restrict people. When we do it ourselves, we do grant them a point, though what we're scoring is unclear.

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