Stocker: Preventing tragedy from dividing us


Alexi Stocker, Columnist

Friday’s barbaric terrorist attacks in Paris struck mostly young adults, not much older than ourselves, who were out enjoying themselves in a beautiful, living city. Although many of the responses to the attacks demonstrated the love and resilience of much of the world, two divergent responses, on opposite ends of the political spectrum, drove me first to anger, then to revulsion. Conservatives like Ann Coulter called for bans on “Muslim immigration,” or in the case of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his supporters, rushed to capitalize on the attacks for political purposes. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tweeted that the attacks could have been stopped had civilians in the Bataclan been armed. Right-leaning politicians across Europe demanded an end to the influx of Syrian refugees, and more than half of U.S. governors have now refused to accept Syrian refugees. From the United States to Eastern Europe, the political far right blamed the attacks on Islam and the left.

On the other side, the far left quickly called out what they deemed hypocrisy in the global response to the Paris terrorist attacks. Commentators were quick to point out that President Obama did not make an official statement on deadly bombings in Beirut, Lebanon, which occurred one day before the terrorist attacks in Paris. They were quick to criticize Facebook for creating a profile picture flag filter for the victims of Paris, but not of Beirut, or attacks in Iraq, Kenya or other countries. The most left-leaning publications did not wait even 24 hours before blaming the United States and other Western nations’ imperialist past and present for the attacks. Comparisons were made between the scale of violence in Paris and Iraq, effectively downplaying the horror inflicted upon the French people. The theme of these messages was, simply put, why “pray for Paris” when violence rips through countries around the world every day?

Why do we honor Paris? We, as Northwestern students and Americans, honor Paris because it is a global city. We honor Paris because our friends and fellow NU students are studying abroad there, because we have studied abroad or visited there, because we have friends, family and colleagues who live in the City of Light. Yes, we should honor the victims of bombings in Beirut, Baghdad and other cities; we should honor the victims of war and state brutality wherever it occurs. That fact does not give any of us the right to begrudge our fellow students, our fellow Americans, our fellow citizens of the world the right to honor the memory of their lost friends, family, colleagues and fellow humans.

No ritual or means of grieving or commemoration is superior to another. No tragedy inherently deserves any more attention than another. In our world’s most trying times, we need love, patience and empathy. Giving in to anger and fear allows the terrorists to win.

On both the far right and far left, politicization of the attacks contains two frightening themes. Talk of guns is a form of victim blaming, as are declarations that the West “caused” this attack. Blaming all Muslims for the attacks, or drawing hasty connections between the lack of attention to the Beirut bombings and Islamophobia, are both different forms of the same “us and them” mentality. Victim blaming desecrates the memories of those who perished in the attacks, and the “us and them” mentality so frighteningly prevalent right now prevents a united response to the attacks in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad and around the world.

ISIS has said it wants to divide the world. We cannot allow them to do so. We must resist the pull of demagogues on both the left and the right. As NU students, it is our responsibility to think critically and act respectfully. Instead of angrily accusing those who add a French flag filter to their profile picture of racism, ask them to include Beirut and Baghdad in their prayers; the initial omission was not intentional. Before rushing to condemn Islam for the attacks, remember that the Syrian refugees are fleeing ISIS, not fighting for them. We must stand in solidarity here at NU, because only then can we stand in solidarity with Paris, Beirut and the world at large.

Alexi Stocker is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.