On Friday, November 13, 2015, the world stood still once again. While at a school event, my phone began getting alerts from various news sources relating the worst news – there had been a terrorist attack in Paris. Frantically searching through my Twitter feed and reading the accounts of the attacks, the night seemed to go on forever. “People yelled, screamed, and everybody lay on the floor. It lasted for ten minutes, ten minutes, ten horrific minutes when everybody was on the floor covering their heads and we heard so many gunshots, and the terrorists were very calm, very determined, and they reloaded three or four times their weapons,” said Julien Pearce, a reporter who was inside one of the attacked locations. From each harrowing report to the next, I felt so hopeless and confused. As the death toll and number of those critically injured continued to increase, the world held its breath. By midnight, the death toll was well over 100 and there were over 300 men and women critically injured. Throughout the night, people from around the globe stood in solidarity with the French, condemning the attacks and using hashtags like #PrayForParis and #SolidarityWithParis. Countries showed their solidarity with the French by lighting up famous locations such as the Empire State Building, the Statue of Christ the Redeemer, and the Sydney Opera House, in blue, white, and red – the colors of the French flag.
The following day, ISIS announced that they were responsible for the attacks, continuing their long line of inhumane tactics; truly forcing the Western world to put ISIS on the top of their foreign policy agendas.
Later on, I began looking through tweets about the attacks and came across something I had not picked up on the night before – a deep hatred for Muslims and refugees and a lack of compassion for similar events in Beirut and Baghdad.
One of the first things I noticed was an increasing amount of hatred towards the Muslim community. Men and women from around the globe began to bash the faith and brand them all as terrorists. Alongside this, politicians like Marco Rubio began to state that the war is against “Radical Islam”. It is quite sad that terrorist groups like ISIS have tarnished the reputation of a peaceful faith. #MuslimsAreNotTerrorists began showing up all over my feed as people began to show their solidarity with the Muslim community.
The reality is that the Jihadi movement, which has been branded as “Radical Islam”, is a very small part of the entire population. There are radical portions in every single religion. For example: there are radical Christian groups like Anti-balaka in the Central African Republic who have attempted to ethnically cleanse the country of the Muslim population and there are radical Buddhist groups like the far-right Buddhists in Myanmar who have been persecuting the Rohingya minority. These religious groups have not tarnished the reputation of the Christians nor the Buddhists but these groups have been committing crimes just as horrific as ISIS. The truth is, the war is not against “Radical Islam” but rather extremism in general. We must combat these vices on all levels not just one. Terrorism has no religion, and we must not be blinded to the gravity of the situation by painting the picture with such a broad brush that we blame only one group.
I also noted a similar hatred toward the refugee and immigrant populations. Just as pervasive as the tweets concerning Islamaphobia, were xenophobic ones. Men and women began to bash European nations for bringing in these refugees, stating that they were the cause of the attacks in Paris. These reports were blatant lies and lacked the humanity of the situation. As Dan Holloway tweeted, “To people blaming refugees for the attacks in Paris tonight. Do you not realise that these are the people the refugees are trying to run away from…?”
The refugee crisis is a clear indication of the instability in the region and the insecurity created by extremist groups and civil wars. The refugees are fleeing a world full of violence, hoping to find a safer and more benevolent home. Despite this, what they have been encountering are places where they are being treated as animals. These men, women and children are people, they are not Syrians first nor Middle Eastern first… they are HUMAN first. Human. We are all humans, brothers and sisters divided by imaginary lines, and we must constantly remind ourselves “People before Borders”. Refugees leave their beloved home – which in and of itself is already difficult – and from there, the journey only gets worse.
Imagine living in a world like theirs where there is no hope for a better future, where “normal” is gunfire and violence. Then imagine picking up everything, escaping the violence, and crossing borders. Then picture yourself getting onto a crowded boat, where you have no clue if you will survive. Then feel the boat rocking, hear the babies crying, and begin losing hope. Finally, if you do survive, imagine stepping foot on foreign soil, not knowing the language nor the culture. The only thing you have is the clothes you are wearing and each other. Put yourself in their shoes. We must do more to protect them.
Finally, I began to read articles about similar attacks in Beirut, Lebanon and Baghdad, Iraq. These attacks were just as atrocious yet didn’t receive nearly as much coverage as did the Paris attacks. It really forced me to think that we cannot just be praying for Paris but rather for all the men and women that have been afflicted by said crises. We must Pray for Humanity and we must stand in solidarity with all of our brothers and sisters.
Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité – liberty, equality, fraternity – these are the values we must live by and work for every single day. To my brothers and sisters around the world, stay strong. We will get through this tough time together and rebuild the world into one where peace prevails.
Rodrigo Bustamante is a contributor to Voices of Youth.
He’s that kid that wants nothing more than to see, explore, and change the world. Instagram: @rodbustamante Twitter: @rodbustamante_