Returning to work on January 5th, I had an entirely different outlook. I thought, just two more months of staring at spreadsheets on three monitors, keeping a fairly simple budget balanced and then I’m free to be the writer I’ve always known lives in me. Yes! Since New Year I’d been thinking about my first blog post and what it would be about.
On January 7th, Charlie Hebdo and the aftermath happened in Paris. Suddenly the questions I was being asked changed from what will you be doing and where are you going to live, to how do you feel about the terrorist attacks and aren’t you scared? The funny thing is when it comes to politics and society, I have strong opinions, and from the beginning I was very adamant not to go there on this blog. Honestly, I get into so much trouble on that soapbox!
This blog is meant to be about the possibility of traveling the way my husband and I like to do; of nice long walks or drives through places we’ve never been with stops at the occasional landmark followed by a terrace for a drink or a coffee or a simple meal; of sampling local culture on a tight budget, away from tourist traps. In French it’s called a dérive, an unplanned journey through a landscape. It’s my favorite word ever, a powerful soundbite that describes living life to the fullest … you know, interesting stuff, adventure on your own terms!
So it’s ironic that I find myself compelled to address the terrorist attack first and foremost. It was a terrible thing that happened. The brutality of the executions are as horrifying to me as they are to anyone.
Was the attack a surprise? No. We watch or read Reporters Without Borders, EuroNews, SkyNews, BBC News, Vice News, etc, daily. Getting information from many sources is the only way these days to get a complete picture of what is happening in the world. In truth, we’ve been expecting it and with every day that went by that it didn’t happen, we expected it more.
It certainly caused a shock. But was it a new phenomenon in Europe or in France? Probably not!
It’s always astonishing to me as the 9/11 anniversary comes around when time and again we are drawn into the tragedy of that day. Don’t get me wrong; it was horrible. I worked for an airline at the time, and the impact it had on people and lives directly or indirectly, is not something to forget. The Twin Towers had been an item on my bucket list and I stood on top of them looking over Central Park some years before. Flying into New York now, it’s still weird not to see the towers.
But having lived through the 70s and 80s in Europe, I can never help but think… what about all terrorist attacks everywhere?
The 80s were an interesting time for the angst-filled teenagers of Generation X. Musically, the 70s evolved from heavy rock to Heavy Metal and New Wave, and we listened to the music—actually, we clung to it—because it reflected how we felt about society. We were on the streets to protest Cold-War nukes being sent to our countries. We protested a lot! We marched, wrote, sang, and head-banged for PEACE because we didn’t trust that governments had the interest of our generation at heart.
Bombings happened. The terrorists of the day were mostly homegrown. They were called the IRA in Ireland, the CCC in Belgium, the ETA in Spain, the DA in France, the RAF in Germany. The attacks bordered the relentless; e.g., over a 6-month period in 1984, there were 26 attacks. Post office walls had ‘wanted’ posters with dozens and dozens of pictures of those who terrorized for their cause. Attending a protest march in any capital was always a risk. It never stopped us. As strange as it sounds, bombings were our normal.
In answer to the question of how I feel about what happened in Paris, I’m angry for the attack on freedom of speech, and yet sociologically, in light of statistics for the Freedom of the Press I find it fascinating and ironic. Just saying!
Terrorist attacks only serve to promote hatred. It makes me angry that people are forced through such trauma, whether they die or survive. I’m angry for the police officer in Paris who was on the beat for just two weeks before being shot in the back. I wept with her mother. I stand beside the message of peace that the brother of Ahmed, the cop so mercilessly assassinated on the street, addressed to those who have turned or will turn against an entire culture because of this. I felt for the print-owner who spoke with trembling hands of having offered the bad guys a cup of coffee. It’s impossible to imagine being in those shoes.
We foresee the situation getting much worse before it gets better. Case in point: here a list of terrorist attacks just in January 2015. It blows the 1984 statistics away. The murders in Paris, as an extension of insurgency images coming from the Middle East and Africa in the recent year, simply must give us pause.
Like Generation X, the Millennial Generation will sadly learn to live with terrorism.
Which doesn’t mean we have to accept it. It’s difficult to grasp that individuals who in principle do not believe in democracy and freedom of speech, would choose to live in a place that does. But having been an expat for half of my life, I believe firmly that anybody has the right to live elsewhere, to seek a better life while keeping their own culture alive. Yet exactly what we don’t want, is an us and them situation. Fear of the unknown is fuel for unrest. So, when I hear words like ‘why can’t they adapt to our society?’, my response tends to be ‘why don’t you respectfully learn about theirs?’
The truth is that integration works both ways and I see the lack of mutual integration as the biggest problem in any migrant-rich society. And, no, I’m not scared.
I was pleased to see the millions of people marching for peace. I look forward to living in a society that chooses to stand up. I look forward to being a participant again. I also hope quite fiercely that demonstrators will reach beyond the Je suis Charlie and Je suis Ahmed signs, into the heart and soul of their diverse communities. Perhaps if governments promoted and if the population were open to mutual integration, we can blow new life into the fact that knowledge is power.
In the end the formula is simple. With integration comes unity. Unity equals love. Love equals peace.
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