It has taken this foreigner a few days to be able to write about the terrorist attacks in Paris. At first, I tweeted and shared some pages and posts. And then I needed a break to think before writing about it. It was too raw. It was too soon. The truth is that the news took me, like they took everyone else, by surprise, and left me shocked, shaken, appalled and terrified.
Because I have known terrorism my whole life. And I knew what it meant.
Terror means that sirens seem to sound louder than a few days ago. Terror means that you look at total strangers suspiciously. Terror means that you feel a little shaky before boarding a plane. Terror means that you change travel plans, that you avoid entire areas just because of fear. Terror means that someone has manipulated your freedom.
I come from a little region in Spain, the Basque Country, where a terrorist group called ETA spent more than thirty years killing around 1000 people, supposedly fighting for the independence of our region. Of course, the situation was much more complicated than that, but that will have to wait for another post.
I can’t remember a time before terrorism, as they were there when I was born. And there they stayed, for many years to come. What I remember is waking up to the news that another car bomb had exploded. That another child had been killed. I remember the fear. I remember the bomb alerts in our university. I remember the demonstrations protesting the violence. Actually, I met my husband in one of them. Because we attended them every single week. This was part of our life back then and there, this was part of our background. This was part of our normal. For that reason, and after four years in a very politicized college, I decided to move abroad, so if I ever had kids, they could live a life where their normal didn’t involve violence and fear to express your opinion in public.
That was in 2001.
Right when terrorism became global, with the most horrific terrorist attack in history, and the first one that was televised minute by minute.
And now, 14 years later, we have been terrorized again. This time the dimensions are smaller, but the fear is bigger, its perception amplified by the likes of Twitter, Facebook or blogs like this one. The fact that the attacks happened to random people doing normal things makes is more scary. Pulling off another 9/11 seems hard and off limits in the current world. But something similar to what happened on Friday in Paris seems more likely to happen again. In a matter of minutes hundreds of people were injured or killed, and the whole world had been terrified by it.
The aftermath that we are seeing life on CNN is just a sign that they are winning. Because their goal, on top of death itself, is to scare us. And at that, and given the state of panic that has provoked stadium evacuations, plane diversions and event cancellations, they have succeeded. We are scared. To death, and with good reason. But as the US stood united against terrorism after 9/11, the world should stand united against terrorism now. Because now the target is everyone, everywhere, all the time.
They have also succeeded in dividing us. I am lucky enough to have lived in three countries. In one of them I had the opportunity of making some muslim friends. Our conversations helped me understand their religion and their culture, and respect it. And thanks to that I know that not all muslims support ISIS. Actually, most don’t. Most are appalled by the events that took place in Paris.
The only way to win this war is for us to keep talking. For us to stand united, regardless of nationality or religion, against evil. I have always said that I wished every single person could study abroad for a bit. To open their minds, to get to know a new culture, to become more tolerant in the process. That would make for a much better world.
But since that is not likely to happen, we will have to aim for a second best. We will have to concentrate on not letting them win, on repelling the terror we fear, on not letting them affect who we like, or who we host, or who we stand by. By not letting them make us change in any little bit how we live our lives.
I know that it is easier said than done. I know it because that is why I once left a land I love. But there is nowhere to run to now. So I will stay here. Or I will fly to Europe in a few weeks, as was planned. Or I will keep moving on with my life. Because no terrorist is going to determine how I live or what I do. I refuse to live in fear. And you shouldn’t let them terrorize you, either.
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