November 18, 2015

POP CULTURE, POLITICS AND PERCEPTION | Paris Sera Toujours Paris

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By SARAH PALMER

This Friday, Colgate came to Cornell’s Lynah Rink for a fast-paced men’s hockey game. The freshmen continued to deliver, which paints a positive picture for the future. It was a high-scoring game, words that haven’t been used to describe Cornell in a while. Canadians scored all five goals, which is a useless fact, but entertaining and good for sports-themed parties. If you were there for the whole game you probably heard many tasteful chants such as: “Crest is Better,” and “Colgate University Sucks.” You may have also heard the Big Red Pep Band play La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, in the third period of the game. While this may have seemed out of place as a cheer, it was a small act of solidarity with Paris, a city in the throes of a living nightmare.

Before and during the game, Paris was rocked by several terrorist attacks that left 129 dead and many more injured. This tragedy burst the Cornell bubble and darkened the bright lights of Lynah. It is devastating to realize that the city of lights could be so easily dimmed. For now, Paris isn’t purely a safe haven of cultural awakening. There is a sadness that accompanies the name. Today’s Paris is different than yesterday’s. Now, we have to construct the Paris of tomorrow, a place that can no longer say, “Terrorism happens, but not here.” As the number of places who still have this illusion of safety dwindles, we need to take this tragedy and channel our despair toward a common purpose. What will this purpose be? More violence? Increase attacks? More air raids?

The “civilized” world has already lashed out at the many innocent people fleeing from terrorism in the Middle East. Claiming that violence is somehow endemic to a certain religion or ethnicity permeates the Western response. France has called the bombing and shootings an act of war. As a result, President Francois Hollande has called for an increase in attacks on ISIS-held areas. Never mind that violence from the West is the basis for ISIS recruitment or that it was this force that sparked the terrorist act in the first place. What Western powers fail to acknowledge is that ISIS is more than a terrorist group or sovereign state, but an ideology. An ideology created by an area wracked with constant violence and destruction. ISIS provided an occupation, a divine meaning, a sense of moral and religious superiority, and a restoration of dignity. It is hard to image how intoxicating these promises would be to a generation that had been denied hope for years. This is what we are fighting.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler posits that you can’t destroy an ideology without putting something else in its place. He was the first to take on an ideological front. While he was a megalomaniacal psychopath, he did understand that people need something more than bread and water. They need ideological nourishment. ISIS provides a feeling of purpose and agency. If the Wests want to fight this movement, they have to go in with more than bombs and Kalashnikovs. They are going to need to create an infrastructure, an ideology, to replace the radical one. This struggle is far trickier than sending in planes and drones, which provides no long-term safety.

These are violent times, but we don’t have to be violent people. When people are scared, they are pushed to extremes they usually wouldn’t consider. Now with our culture under attack, we are faced with an incalculable fear of the future. But to corrupt our values now and close our borders, our homes and our hearts would be to lose our moral high ground. Because once we turn out the victims, we lose any claim to victimhood. At this point the Western world can provide a home to millions of fleeing people. We are setting precedents for how we will respond to these threats in the future, a future that, with global warming, will see an increase in mass migration. How we behave now will dictate our acceptance later, when we find ourselves displaced. Our supremacy is only borrowed; we are going to give it back. At some point, we will be knocking at a neighbor country’s door saying, “Please, I need help. I’m not safe.” If we say no to refugees now, that is all we can expect in the future.   

Sarah Palmer is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Her spirit animal is President William Henry Harrison, reminding her that even the biggest success can be dampened by the wrong outfit choice. She spends far too much time watching old movies, listening to jazz and trying not to do anything. Pop Culture, Politics and Perception appears on alternate Wednesdays this semester. She can be reached at ssp222@cornell.edu.

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