As I stood at the vigil at Toronto’s City Hall on Saturday, I noticed that not only French or Québecois people had shown up. It was a mixture of people in so many ways. I wondered how the events that unfolded in Paris became so personal for so many people, myself included.
I still remember when 9/11 happened. It was a strange, numbing sensation – almost surreal – to wake up at 6:30 a.m. in Vancouver, only to hear about planes flying into buildings through the radio.
New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, in hindsight, seemed to be attacks on institutions: the financial might of New York, the military prowess headquartered in Washington, and the institutionally symbolic target of Flight 93, whatever it may have been.
But something was different about Paris.
It’s not to say that the horrific events 14 years ago weren’t personal, and these observations certainly don’t diminish the catastrophes of that day. The attacks in Paris may not have been strictly on institutions per se, but rather, an assault on a way of life – a certain freedom to celebrate whatever brings us together: the freedom to enjoy a coffee on a café patio, to celebrate others, to attend concerts, and especially to practise whatever religion we wish to…to congregate for common causes, all without a sliver of an expectation of being massacred by operatives of a group seeking to spread an extremist interpretation of a holy text.
Another rather disturbing thought is that while what happened in the United States dealt with buildings, what happened in Paris dealt with people. It’s distressing to think that once the motives of the assailants in Le Bataclan were revealed through the media, it was hard to believe that any of the hostages there would survive the ordeal. It becomes very personal when we realize that innocent individuals are losing their lives in the face and presence of cold-blooded executioners.
So now we’re left praying and/or hoping (and whatever other related term you wish to use) for some sort of healing and understanding in the aftermath of not only Paris, but also Beirut, the Russian airliner, and more.
And yet, in the face of lethal bigotry, we ourselves must avoid becoming bigoted in the process. What good is it for us to embrace and feed that positive feedback loop that begets such misfortunate attitudes time and time again?