From Paris to Brussels, the attacks on Western Europe have caused a growing disillusionment throughout the populace. These terror attacks recall the moment when Americans lost most of our innocence in 2001. Unfortunately, the fear generated by 9/11 caused global conflict, increased racism and compressed social liberties.
However, despite the negativity of my opening paragraph, I have a strange optimism in the face of this wave of violence. Somehow, I hope this will break through our western European microverse. It is as if we, of the Western European mind, have existed in a magical realm. We were Sleeping Beauty, peacefully slumbering. Of course, times weren’t easy; we were once surrounded by a wall of thorns and a fire-breathing dragon. But as long as no one disturbed our carefully balanced world, we were content. Now we have been awoken, quite violently, to an increasingly interconnected world. The thorn walls are coming down; suddenly, the safe European realm no longer exists in isolation.
I know that Europe and America have been dealing with international markets and politics for generations. I’m not talking about the global economy or the formation of the United Nations. Obviously, we are aware of other continents and countries outside our small sphere. I’m talking about an ingrained social difference, a superiority that comes from a perception of safety. Western Europe and North America are especially guilty of this belief that we are beyond the turmoil that is terrorizing the Middle East. This is a perception that the conflicts of the world happen elsewhere, with us simply acting as marionettes pulling the strings from a distance. What a pleasant fairy tale.
It was only a fairy tale, however. Now, our first dragon to slay was the idea that it can’t happen here, that somehow we were immune to violence. The second is converting the new fear of a volatile world into empathy, not hate. Throughout history we have created a perfect fear-to-hate assembly line. Fear makes us feel vulnerable and hate counteracts this vulnerability giving a people an enemy, someone to fight. It is harder to find broad, across-the-aisle unity created by fear. However, we are not completely devoid of new age examples of the empathy that comes from fear. One specific example of modern empathy in the face of fear is the Boston Marathon bombings.
On April 15, 2013, around 23,000 runners participated in the 117th annual Boston Marathon. What set this run apart from the 116 before was the two bombs that exploded near the finish line at 2:49 p.m. The blasts killed three people and injured two hundred and sixty, leaving many people without limbs.
In the wake of the attack, there was widespread shock and media coverage. Responding to the depiction of these horrible attacks, a group of Syrians posted a sign in condolence. It read, “Boston bombings represent a sorrowful scene of what happens everyday in Syria. Do accept our condolence.” The sign was a poignant way to put a global view on the attacks. What made it more special was the response banner by young Bostonians, mostly Tufts students, written in solidarity with the Syrian strife. It was written in both English and Arabic, wishing safety for those in Syria and an end to war.
It’s unfortunate that unity has to come from fear. However, these attacks can be producers of equalizing fear. This fear will serve to humanize us. Then we can dispel this concept of a mythical place that is somehow above global violence. We have to aim our sights on a day when the news of a suicide bombing in Kabul is just as alarming as a shooting in Paris. I know that it is a strongly optimistic take on current events, but I have to believe that we can start building together instead of in separate competition.