It has been two hours since news of the attacks began to appear online, and by the time this goes to print it will have been three days since; at the time of writing I cannot even begin to imagine the horrors that will become clear as the dust settles and we begin to piece together what is happening. The shock is never lessened, no matter how familiar this kind of news has become.
Being born in the mid-Nineties means that so many of the landmark historical moments I have witnessed have been characterised by this kind of violence, whether 9/11 at age 6, the Madrid bombings at age 9, the events of 7/7 in London at age 10, the Glasgow Airport attack at age 12 right up to the Charlie Hebdo incident last academic year. Each time the inevitable cycle of fear and anger dominates public discourse as these traumatic events ripple through our collective consciousness. This has become all too familiar.
As I write, I am scrolling through Twitter and Reddit for more news. My phone is vibrating with Facebook alerts every time a friend has marked themselves safe in Paris. I have several Wikipedia tabs open, one is about French law and what it means to be in a state of emergency, another is about the area it is taking place in, a third is about the London bombings those few years ago. It is at times like these that we are so utterly reliant on the availability of crowdsourced information, whilst it can be riddled with panic and misinformation it is also what allows us to see through the mist that is already beginning to obscure the event. Eyewitness accounts, fact checks on media coverage, messages of support and solidarity – all of these directly impact the way we construct and make sense of these senseless events.
Already the comment threads on far-right pages are beginning to fill with bile, and calls for justice are quickly warping into opportunistic attempts to hijack the coverage and add to the inhumanity we are witnessing. Editors at our nations’ media outlets are currently meeting to work out their particular angle on the events, how they will structure coverage in the coming weeks and what narrative they will project onto the wider context of this tragedy. For some, this is the perfect opportunity to further their agenda of hate and misinformation; this will be the justification for closing borders, for encroaching on our rights, and for turning away from the world.
We need to remember that as spectators, as commentators, and as witnesses we are the lucky ones. I will not be the recipient of abuse hurled as I walk through the street, nor will my heritage or beliefs be scrutinised and misrepresented. My voice is adequately represented in parliament and in our press, and nobody is threatening to deprive me of my rights or personhood.
The same is certainly not true for so many, who though utterly separate from these awful events will be needlessly implicated and associated with them. There will, as always, be calls for public apologies and explanations from anyone who is deemed by the assembled mobs to have even a tenuous connection to the beliefs and heritage of those who have perpetrated these grievous crimes. Islam will again be put on trial by baying packs of bigots who have already cherry-picked the evidence which suits their twisted agenda.
As the dust settles, and as the news cycle repeats itself again, it is our responsibility to bare witness to these conversations and to call out those who would turn tragedies into opportunities to further the very hatred and division we ought to be uniting against.
Image: Moyan Brenin