I went to a 10,000 Maniac concert in San Sebastian, Spain in July of 1993. It was one of those perfect free summer concerts, sponsored by some whiskey company. A couple thousand kids crowded into a fairly small outdoor venue. I was 16 years old, far away from home, in a foreign city by myself for the very first time. I was with a group of 16-19 year old kids and we owned the world. I was drunk on freedom (just freedom, mom) and felt powerful and limitless. It was a highlight summer of my life.
On Friday, when I first heard of the terrorist attacks in Paris, I thought of the 16 year old girl at that 10,000 Maniacs concert. It feels like her world is gone. You can't accidentally stumble in to a concert these days, usually there are bag checks and security...even more so after the attacks at the concert venue in Paris. After 6 weeks in Spain my 16 year old self stumble off an airplane directly into the arms of my waiting family. That's an impossibility in this world. When I went to Spain as a 16 year old, the most dangerous thing I did was lay on the beach without sunscreen (and attend an ETA rally which, given what I now know about ETA may have been more dangerous than I thought). The world just seems a bit scarier these days.
So, when the news of the Paris attacks broke, the social media world erupted with #PrayforParis. And then came the inevitable backlash. Why were we all so quick to rally support for Paris and not for Beirut, which was also the site of terrible terrorist attacks? It's a fair question and one can certainly understand why some Lebanese people feel forgotten. In the news reports after the attacks in Paris Christiane Amanpour kept saying that some of the attackers spoke French without an accent, that they were French nationals. I think this is at the crux of why the attacks in Paris received more attention than the attacks in Beirut. The attacks in Paris are teaching us something that they've known in Beirut for decades: terrorists look like us.
In an earlier post I talked about how we're looking for a Shibboleth to help us determine who is on our team. But maybe more importantly, we all want a Shibboleth to help us determine who is against us. That's why we point out all the things that make terrorists the "other". Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. And that's why the Paris attacks got so much attention.
Someday in the not too distant future I hope to send my own 16 year old off on a foreign adventure of her own. I still think it's important for my kids to experience other countries, maybe more important now than ever before. I don't think it will be easy to send them off but I can't lock them up forever...that's letting the terrorists win.