How Paris could actually tear us apart: Inside the dangerous collision of politics & fear

After a mass tragedy like Paris, there's an understandable impulse to withdraw from the world. We must resist it

Published November 15, 2015 3:30PM (EST)


There is nothing like a horrifying tragedy to make you wish the internet did not exist. The response to Friday's devastating attacks in Paris provided yet more evidence that the age of social media has only served to ratchet up the cynicism with which we greet such horrors.

It would be a relief to quietly mourn the dead, but that train has sadly left the station, thanks to all the people who decided that the attacks were a perfect opportunity to exploit people's grief and fear.

The biggest question, then, is what happens now: What should the world do in response to such carnage?

There are ominous clouds in the air. Countries which have resisted taking in people who are fleeing the very horror just visited on the streets of Paris are already pouncing on the news that some of the attackers may have posed as refugees. The fascist National Front is busy telling French that it alone can be trusted to protect them from the Islamic menace. American politicians are using the attacks to warn against letting in more immigrants. A startling article in Politico declares that "On Terror, We're All Right-wingers Now."

There will surely be even more calls to draw further in on ourselves—to ramp up the surveillance, to demonize Muslims, to expand our bombing campaigns, to increase the suspicion and loathing which has so embittered us.

The people cheering loudest for such a response would be ISIS. It has both claimed responsibility for and been blamed for the attack. Whether or not those claims turn out to be true, nobody needed any confirmation of its barbarity and inhumanity. The world could give it no greater gift than to widen the divisions already present in our society.

After 9/11, we invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq. We threw people in gulags and tortured them. We spied relentlessly on our own citizens. We bombed Pakistan. We bombed Yemen. We helped turn Syria into the bloodiest, most entangled political knot in the world. We coddled Saudi Arabia, the biggest exporter of the fundamentalist ideology poisoning so many countries. It has all brought us precious little peace. Decades of bombs and bullets have not done the trick. Our tolerance of anti-Muslim bigotry has gotten us nowhere. Our surveillance state has failed to protect us. Each and every one of these things has been a boon to ISIS and its kind.

For people to choose an alternative to such brutality, we have to make the alternative available in a way that we clearly haven't been able to thus far. We have to find a different way to fight the evil of ISIS. We have to be a world that mourns the dead in Beirut as fiercely as it mourns the dead in Paris; that greets the people who have been the chief victims of ISIS terror with open arms; that tells Muslims that they are not the enemy within; that works for peace and diplomacy as aggressively as it wages war; that sees civil liberties as a strength rather than a weakness; that pulls together in solidarity and love. Attacks like the one in Paris test our capacity for this like nothing else. For the sake of the world, we have to pass that test.


By Jack Mirkinson

Jack Mirkinson is a writer living in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @jackmirkinson.

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Paris Paris Attacks Refugees Syria Terrorism