We Must Unite As Humans

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Before we get started, I want everyone to know that I am safe. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me. Even though I am not in Paris, I have learned who my true friends and family are. The ones who I didn’t even think cared that I’m in France are the ones who were the most concerned, so thank you so much for contacting me.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Paris, and it’s fair to say that I have been constantly asking myself what would have happened if I had been there a couple weeks later. I look at pictures of the shooting and recognize exactly where I stood when I was there. Except instead of streets filled with markets and chatter, I see silence and blood.

What if I went to the Petit Cambodge on Friday night to meet up with some friends in Paris? What if the attacks were a couple of weeks ago instead of Friday? What if I was watching the concert in the Bataclan?

So many “what ifs” and so many “I got lucky” thoughts. Then again, what if I was in Japan during the earthquake? What if I was in Baghdad at the funeral that was bombed? What if I was in Beirut where there was a suicide bombing?

That’s not luck. I just wasn’t there.

And sometimes, I’m not paying attention. I will be honest: I feel incredibly guilty. I feel guilty for feeling sad for Paris and not thinking until a couple hours later that the same thing happens in so many countries every day. Massacres where we see innocent bodies laid out on the streets and people being treated like numerical digits on the death toll rather than actual lives with personal stories. I, like most of you, knew these things were happening, but why is it only now that we mourn the way we do? Why are we praying for Paris when we should be praying for the whole world? Why is it only now that we unite as humans when terrorism dates back to before the very first acts of Western colonization?

It’s because this is a direct threat to our world. The world where it is strange to not find WiFi. The world where the privilege of having a toilet becomes a necessity. The world where having a credit card is normal.

What is even sadder is that I probably wouldn’t be as concerned if I wasn’t so close to these shootings. The reason why I don’t sob when I see 9/11 is because I did not know it happened until years after the event occurred. My family sheltered me so much that I had no idea was going on in the world when I was four years old. Now that I’m old enough to go out and make my own opinions and have my own experiences, my perspective has drastically changed.

It was 11:15pm when I heard about the shootings. My friend from the states messaged me to ask if I was okay. Strangely, I wondered why and he told me that there was a shooting in a restaurant at Paris. That didn’t get me rolling, though. There had been a fire in Romania a couple weeks ago, and I had been hearing about a little things like this for a while (which is sad, because killing people should not be normal). I assured him I was fine and not in Paris, not thinking twice. One shooting could be controlled.

What the heck was I thinking, though? The next minute I received an email from my research mentor asking if I was okay. She knew I had been in Paris the previous week, but had no idea I had left already. I told her I was fine and moved on. She could have just thought that I was eating in the restaurant.

Then I received a call from one of the girls on my trip. She told me to look at the news. Almost 40 people were dead by the time I looked at the news. I was shocked, wondering why the police hadn’t controlled it yet only to realize that there weren’t enough of them on the streets to control shootings at three different places. The game at the stade was stopped due to a couple self-explosive bombs inside.

I recalled that a couple of friends in Paris had told me the night before that they were going to the game on Friday. I desperately texted them if they were okay and to reply immediately. I didn’t get a response until an hour later when they said they were safe in the 13th arrondissement after sprinting to the metro to leave the centre-ville as fast as possible. I asked them if they knew what was going on, but they didn’t want to talk. All they could say was that they were too terrified and didn’t want to talk. They didn’t leave their apartment the entire weekend.

My eyes were glued to the news for the next three hours as I waited, drumming my fingers. My phone pinged with messages from so many people asking if I was safe, which required me to post to everyone that I was not in the city. I watched Obama give his speech, wishing that we could do something about it. I read tweets from the inside of the Bataclan concert hall where hostages were begging for help because men in masks were killing people one by one. It took hours until the police had broken into the concert hall when over a hundred people had already died.

I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t know those people who suffered, but it was painful to sit in my room and agonize over the reality that was right in front of me.

It’s difficult to think that this was an act against Islamophobia when all this did was create more Islamophobia. It is important to understand the difference between a radical Muslim and a Muslim. Grouping only causes us to stereotype, and my condolences go out to those who are suffering the nasty looks from their neighbors. It’s also difficult to think that the world puts up the French flag, but not the other flags of those who have suffered just like the state of France. The media is partially at fault here.

People are telling me that I should never have come to France. People ask me if I will ever come back to France. But I cannot emphasize how ignorant all of these questions and statements are coming off to me. We can’t live in this world in fear. That’s not living: that’s just not dying. Of course I’ll come back. A terror attack, honestly, could happen anywhere. And it has. Terrorism occurs everywhere, and it’s not just the violent Islamic extremism that you’re all pointing your fingers at. Does that mean I should climb into a shell and live secluded from the rest of the world?

The world has its good and bad parts. We can’t run away from things just because something bad (even though it was incredibly awful) happened. Am I scared? Of course, but that’s not going to stop me from moving forward. My heart is with those who have died and suffered, not in Paris, but in the world. My heart is to those who suffer with them because the ability to not do anything is the worst feeling of them all. My heart is to those who live in fear, because nobody should have to live like that.

Our moment to unite hands as not Europeans or Americans, but as humans, is long overdue. Even if that has only been realized now, it’s not too late. Because it’s time to take a stance.

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