Seeing the news unfold from Paris that there had been yet another terrorist attack, I have to be honest: I didn’t feel too much at first.
Yes, it was awful, but the scenes played out on the screen like the plot of an action film: dramatic, but ultimately ones that we’ve seen time and time again. The world would get back to their feet, and life would continue as before.
Or at least, that’s how it should have went.
Eleven days on, when the frivolous debates over whether or not people should change their Facebook profile to a blue, white, and red tricoleur have subsided, and other humanitarian tragedies that were ignored by the Western media have been highlighted, the chaos and uncertainty remains.
That wasn’t meant to happen.
I don’t want to admit it, but I’m going to be honest: I am scared. The sort of fear that builds and grows based on over-exposure to one particular threat. I recognise that the chance of being killed in a terrorist attack is statistically lower than dying in a car crash, or even from being hit on the head by a coconut, but there is a deep, all-permeating fear that remains. This is something that isn’t helped by the fact I have to confront the issue daily at work: reviewing material such as the horrifying images of those lying dead in the Bataclan Theatre.
All of this is, of course, as many commentators pay lip service to: ‘what the terrorists want’. They want to ‘destroy our way of life’, and bring about greater divides between us and ‘the other’. It’s all very obvious and predictable.
The problem is though, that it is working.
This time, the symbolism of terrorism has captured both the imagination of the sensationalist media, and attracted the authoritarian arm of the so-called sovereign states.
The exaggerated press coverage, along with the equally disproportionate reaction of our governments from the UK to Russia gives the impression that we are trapped inside of an all consuming state of war, with danger omnipresent; gun-men just waiting for us to drop our guard to take their chance and blow us up. The BBC’s panorama report on the Paris attacks finished with an ominous statement about how the next attack could take place at any time, anywhere, and the US have issued a worldwide travel alert to its citizens to ‘be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowded places’… Brussels has been ‘locked down’, with armed police filling the streets. There is literally no escape from the perceived threat, and that isn’t because of ISIS – it’s because of how our own countries are reacting – suffocating us with the same issue 24/7.
I can’t help but think back to when I was younger; growing up with the consistent threat of the IRA targetting mainland Britain. We shrugged off the idea that we should avoid ‘crowded places’, because that could be literally anywhere, and the attacks had gone on for so many years it was impossible to do so. We used to laugh when Americans couldn’t understand why there was no bins in train stations: it was just part of life. Yes, the threat was real (and far more common in this part of the world than ISIS), but the level of panic and fear was completely different.
How quickly that all gets forgotten. It’s far easier to paint the brown skinned, Muslim folk as the enemy than the pale ginger Irish ones. Easier to demand new, unprecedented surveillance and security measures on the back of an enemy that can be hiding around any corner, clutching an AK47 and a Quran.
After Paris, it is easy to feel like ISIS are everywhere; all powerful… but they are not. To conquer that feeling, we first need to recognise it, and then fight back against it. Travel to Paris. Travel to Brussels. Welcome the refugees. Don’t accept the derogatory things that others say about them. Fight for greater civil liberties, not the restriction of them. Stand up against those who would have it otherwise. Refuse to give in to the fear that not only the terrorists, but your government wants you to feel.
This is me refusing to accept it.