A Guilty Reaction to Paris Terror Attacks


I felt appalled by the unfolding events of last night and stayed glued to the television until the early hours of Saturday morning but my reaction has wracked me with guilt.

I wept as the death and injuries tolls rose. I was fixated on the hostages inside the Bataclan theatre and I could not help but check Facebook every few minutes in order to feel somehow connected to others. I changed my profile picture more than once in solidarity with France. Why?

I watch the news about Syria and Iraq (among other countries) regularly. I have joined a couple of volunteering groups to support the acceptance and care of refugees in the UK and yet I do not shed tears about traumatic refugee experiences in Calais or Lesvos in the same way and I have come to the uncomfortable position that Europe has a greater impact upon me than any other part of the world.

I say uncomfortable because I have spent the majority of my working life addressing and challenging stereotypes, especially in regard to ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentalities. I have sought out areas of difference between groups and tried to explain why individuals feel threatened by ‘otherness’ and yet, and yet when it comes down to it, I am governed to some extent by my grounding within a Eurocentric set of cultural norms. In truth, I emotionally identify more closely with France than with Syria.

And yet, what am I actually identifying with? The tenth arrondissement is multi-cultural and specifically inhabited by many individuals from Middle-Eastern and North-African heritages. Thus, my identification is not as simplistic as solely aligning myself with the ‘Free French’ image of World War II. I am not playing Rick Blaine to Captain Renault. But I have to be honest about my emotive reactions. Paris is a city I have frequented regularly. I identify with the food, the style, the beauteous wonder of it (but, I must admit that the music somewhat escapes me). I am more aligned politically to the French notion of taking to the streets in outrage. I have more historical awareness and my first husband is Parisian. Thus, I suppose that my connections are manifold whereas my connections to Syria, for example, are more singular and are based on an outraged response to inhumanity. This is a more singular reaction and simultaneously more amorphous because of its generalisability.

I am not connected by proximity per se. I am not fearful of similar events occurring in London. As someone who rarely pays attention to their environment, I have had several near death experiences when crossing roads or tripping over my small dog. My life will continue much as it does. This is not a display of bravery; of ‘standing up to and defying the impact of terror on daily life’. It is simply a case of having other priorities to worry about. But my realisation is that inconsistency is etched into the fabric of my being. The moral fibre running down my spine supports a ramrod belief that harming any human being based on the faux rationales of religion and economics is unacceptable, risible and requires challenge on all fronts. But my emotional self feels more tangibly when my historically–intertwined neighbour is harmed and the gap between the two states has led to my guilt and leads to a reconfirmation of the potential harm that the space between thinking and feeling can cause. It’s simply another spin on knowing that cigarette smoking is bad for me but my love of smoking beckons to me at all times. The difference, of course, is when I smoke, I kill myself. When I don’t challenge the schism between my thoughts and feelings, I help to kill others.

In essence, my heart lies in Europe but I hope that my soul is global.


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