Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

Liberté: the right to do that which does not harm others. It is the validity of this ideal that allows us to carry on with life as normal. We watch matches, enjoy drinks at cafés and attend concerts knowing that, as a community, there exists a mutual understanding of, and respect for, each other’s humanity. On Friday, to our collective horror, we watched as this ideal was trampled on by a group of eight individuals. However, their efforts were in vain, for it is the very feeling of horror felt at liberté’s dismissal that reaffirms its truth.

In the coming weeks, people may purport that our apparent apathy towards similar tragedies elsewhere serves to show that our embrace of liberté is not as strong as we would like to believe. Indeed, when 108 were massacred in Houla three years ago, the outcry in the West was but a pale comparison to what we have heard this week. If we are truly disgusted by instances of harm, should we not distribute our care in equal measure? Is this discrepancy not an objection to liberté’s very veracity?    

To this, let it be said that a tragedy is a tragedy; our displays of sorrow and pain require no qualification. If an individual is particularly affected by one event and not another, it is not proof that she is misguided in her ideals; rather, it is a reflection of human nature. We rightly hold certain sentiments closer than others and, for many, these sentiments exist in people, places, and memories found in Paris. What is important is that, when these sentiments were harmed on Friday, our pain was instant, visceral, and undeniable; this alone proves that liberté stands in defiance of the actions which sought to undermine it.   

Egalité: equality for all through the eyes of the law. As Europe approaches a critical time in its migrant crisis, we must guard against attempts to portray the tragedy in Paris as an argument for the denunciation of the most vulnerable implicated in all of this: the migrants themselves. They are trying to escape chaos and destruction found on their own streets; they are not a cause of their own crisis, and are simply trying to protect themselves and their loved ones.

With that being said, we do not wish to comment on the extent to which nations ought to open their borders here; whether Europe should adopt an open doors policy full stop or step up its border control is an important yet separate debate to be had. The point is that, once these individuals have successfully migrated to a given nation – whether they number 50 or 5,000 – they should not be the targets of institutionalised discrimination protected under the guise of the law.

Perhaps what is most frightening is that, if we fail to honour this, there is more at stake than simply the ideal of egalité. For it is a guiding principle of extremism to conceptualise the world as a dichotomy between ‘us’ and ‘them’, and in this case, the Caliphate and the West. This provides justification for violence as the only possible mediation between two incompatible positions. The problem is that, by adopting such social binaries, certain groups–such as migrants–are inevitably placed on a side which they do not fit, and suffer as a result. Thus, if we are not careful to ensure equality, then we run the risk of conceding to the same harmful ideology that is celebrated amongst those who carried out the attack.   

Fraternité: comradeship and solidarity. These words encompass the mood of the last few days. A minority opposed to this ideal has tried to tear society apart from within; however, we cannot let the controversies that will inevitably erupt from this tragedy affect our sensibilities. Cities around the world have come together as a united front against the perpetrators of this atrocity. Social media is acting as an interlacing medium for the separate cities by giving individuals a platform to voice their support.

The world, at times, seems to be at war with itself. It is a place full of contradictions and hypocrisy; nevertheless, following this tragedy, and similar human devastation across the globe, one thing is clear: the majority are in favour of the safety of civilians and the eradication of futile acts of violence and terror. IS has taken responsibility for the deaths of over 130 people in Paris, and injuring over 350. Around the world they have been responsible for the murder of thousands more, and those deaths mean no less than those in Paris. We should unite as a force, not only against the events in Paris, but also those internationally. The actions of a minority do not represent the views of the many. It is clear from the international support for the victims of the massacre that the ideals of Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité are, and must continue to be, upheld.

The Student has collected the perspectives of several University of Edinburgh students affected by the attacks.  To read those accounts, and to add your own voice to the conversation, go to www.studentnewspaper.org/perspectives

Image: Flickr: Stefano

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