“So sad about Paris attacks (crying emoji).” It was a group text to my kids. I mean, you watch terror unfold on a TV screen – in my case in a suite at Budweiser Gardens for a London Knights’ hockey game – and you want to do something, but what can you do? Reaching out to loved ones is something.
My son Jay responded immediately. “What happened? My friends are in Paris right now for work.”
“Serious?” I texted. Then, just to be sure his friends weren’t in Paris, Ontario, “Paris, France. Multiple attacks. Over 100 dead.”
“Geez. Just talking to them now.”
Just talking to them now. What a world we live in, huh? Instantaneous worldwide communication. As it turned out, Jay’s friend, who’s work colleagues were just a few blocks from Le Bataclan, the scene of the most deaths, was not with them as he’d met up with another friend of Jay’s who’d just arrived in town. Everyone was fine, with the group near Le Bataclan ending up locked in a restaurant for a while.
And there are others with connections in Paris. A Facebook friend with a son and his family, all safe, but a friend of her son, and the friend’s girlfriend, have tragically died.
Have you been to Paris? It is a beautiful, vibrant (and expensive) city. Besides being embarrassingly afraid to climb the Eiffel Tower, I recall speed-visiting The Louvre – we only had one afternoon in town. With an average of over 9 million visitors annually, it is the most popular museum in the world, and when your feet hit the marble steps you can tell. They’re warped. And it makes you think about all of the feet that have stepped before you. I’d heard the Mona Lisa was a small painting, so I was prepared, but still . . . she is magical. Definitely worth seeing with thine own eyes.
And the women in Paris? I marveled at their beauty while travelling on the subway. Exotic eyes, lips. That chic way of dressing.
So, Paris attacks dominate the news, the tri-color of the French flag is everywhere and some question. Why are we so upset about Paris? What about Beirut, where ISIS killed 43, the day before? And what about Yemen, where they blew up 22 in October? The list goes on and on.
Well, if you define Russia as a Western country (the definition of Russia is complicated), and now it looks like ISIS is responsible for the downing of that Russian jetliner on October 31st, then it’s estimated that ISIS has killed 1,000 Westerners since January. I think this is cause for concern. Prior to Friday the 13th, the modus operandi of ISIS has mostly been “lone wolf” attacks with few casualties. This is a coordinated attack on us. Our values, our lifestyle. An attack on young people in the prime of their lives enjoying a Friday night. While we can be horrified about atrocities in non-Western countries – like Boko Harum (who I recently heard has the highest number of killings per attack) stealing schoolgirls in Nigeria – we can relate to Paris. This is us.
I responded to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in January with my take on religion in Je Suis Habibi. After this attack, I looked deeper into ISIS, because knowledge is power, right? I found a great – long, but easy to understand – article in The Atlantic called “What ISIS Really Wants”. It’s kind of creepy, because writer Graeme Wood interviews various Islamic State supporters, and you understand why he describes them as “highly sophisticated people, just as capable of intelligent critical thought as anyone else.” So, why? Why is their goal Apocalypse?
Wood quotes writer George Orwell with as good of an explanation as any. “Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people ‘I offer you a good time,’ Hitler has said to them, ‘I offer you struggle, danger, and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet . . . We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.”
Our advantage over ISIS – and similar ideologies – is that most of us want the “good time” over “struggle, danger, and death”. For proof read Isobel Bowdery’s viral Facebook post about being at Le Bataclan on Friday the 13th. You won’t get to the end without crying. “I pretended to be dead for over an hour,” she writes about lying in the blood of strangers. Does she talk about retaliation? No. What does a woman who came within an inch of death at the hands of terrorists focus on? The heroes.
“To the man who reassured me and put his life on the line.” “To the couple whose last words of love kept me believing in the good in the world.” “To the complete strangers who picked me up from the road and consoled me during the 45 minutes I truly believed the boy I loved was dead.”
And she recounts much more goodness. Look around – and you don’t have to look far – and you see that good is more abundant than bad. Hold onto that as we recover from yet another attack on our values, our lifestyle.
I agree Rita. Good-making is far and beyond crazy-making. From therapy years ago I learned that one does not try to understand crazy-making because there is no sense….this is what all this destructive behaviour appears to me as. But good-making is not power over others and it has sense in it. That I am up for. I would like to think there is good-making in my paintings.