Time and again, the Displaced Nation has featured the works of displaced creatives who have been captivated by Paris, a city that has been beloved of expats for longer than anyone can remember. For today’s post, a few of us offer some responses to the terrorist attacks that beset the city last week. Our thoughts are with those expats who remain in the city as it attempts to move forward in the wake of disruption and tragedy, what some have labeled France’s 9/11. We express solidarity with your solidarité.
ML AWANOHARA, Displaced Nation founding writer/editor: My first two experiences with terrorism occurred when I was living abroad: first in Britain, where I always felt the threat of an IRA attack when traveling into central London for my studies; and then in Japan: I was living just up the street from one of the subways that Aum Shinrikyo attacked with sarin gas.
Then, not long after I repatriated and moved to New York City, 9/11 occurred: a spectacle almost beyond belief. I still remember the gamut of emotions I felt in the weeks and months that followed, everything from practical considerations (should I take the bus since a rumor is flying about another attack on the subway today?) to large questions: why do they hate us so much?
Although in each of these cases the terrorists were tied to religion (even Aum Shinrikyo espoused a “new religion”), when I first heard about the Parisian attacks, I felt that something different was taking place. It sounds grand to call it a clash of civilizations, but that’s been my impression, this time around.
I spent my formative years in Britain, you see, where I learned to appreciate irreverent humor, so much so that I’ve had a tough time adjusting back to life back here in the U.S., where people take themselves a lot more seriously. Though I don’t think I’m Charlie (I draw the line at the kind of irreverence that magazine was up to), I do feel that artists should be free to explore the boundaries…
In fact, isn’t that what the Displaced Nation is about? My fellow founders, Kate Allison and Anthony Windram, and I conceived of this site as a space where one could be irreverent about the expat life (within certain limits, of course—and we occasionally argued about that). Humo(u)r and sending things up has been our stock-in-trade.
On that note, and in the spirit of artistic freedom, allow me to offer one final thought. In the days after the terrorists struck, I have also been thinking that, in a strange kind of way, I’m not unlike the perpetrators. I went abroad to be exposed to new ideas and in some sense I became “radicalized”—emerging from my European experience as more secular, more aware of the world, and with more of a social conscience than I’d developed while growing up in America.
That’s where the comparison ends, of course. Having a European, secular mindset means I’m much more afraid of my fellow Americans waging war on me with their fundamentalist beliefs, Biblical literalism and guns than the other way around. No doubt that’s why I now live in New York City—though ironically, this location makes me more vulnerable to terrorists with an axe to grind against this country.
I look to the Displaced Nation as a source of community while also knowing it cannot guarantee my safety. No nation can do that, not even one built in cyberspace. (I’m thinking of the Sony hackers.)
RITA GARDNER, Adult Third Culture Kid, memoirist, and interviewee for the Displaced Nation’s “A Picture Says…” column: I am outraged and scared that the acts of a small group of radicals just shook the world. It’s not just Paris that is reeling from this blow. The number of lives affected spiral out widely beyond those who lost their lives, crossing continents and oceans, the pain an ever-expanding circle. When I first heard about the Paris attacks, my first instinct was to go into denial – and pull into a cocoon of self-protection. Selfishly, I can turn off the TV and not see the horror. It’s happening “somewhere else”, not in my immediate world. I realize hiding is just a defense mechanism. I think that because expats have had the experience of living far from our “passport country”, none of us can cocoon into unconsciousness for long. We have been in that “somewhere else”—we know this attack could have happened to any of us, any place on the globe. And yet—we must live, we must manage somehow to reconcile the fact that evil and good exist within mankind. That’s the hardest idea to contemplate or absorb at this time. Maybe all we can do right now is attempt to be good ambassadors wherever we find ourselves, and add love to that ever-expanding spiral.
CINDA MACKINNON, ATCK, novelist, and subject of one of our writer interview features: I wanted to write something profound, but what words can you say about terrorists? It is shocking and senseless. No cause can justify terrorism, yet hardly a week goes without innocent people being slaughtered. There is a feeling that the real target in Paris is Western civilization and values (and some say freedom of speech). The French are united in their grief, and they joined us after 9/11 when the newspaper Le Monde wrote: “Nous sommes tous Américains.” In response I would like to say: “Nous sommes tous Françaises.”
JOANNA MASTERS-MAGGS, Displaced Nation (“Global Food Gossip”) columnist and expat in France: I talked to my children, who’ve spent six years on their young lives in Muslim countries, about what happened. As I explained in yesterday’s post, I’m never shocked by terrorism as I knew it existed at an early age. When the attacks in Paris happened and my kids asked about it, I didn’t sugar the pill for them. I told them I didn’t have the definitive answer. I don’t know why people do this sort of thing. I can’t imagine caring that much about anything. I think I would shoot someone who hurt my kids, but for an idea, a belief? I told them not to get so uptight about things themselves and never say something as embarrassing as “Well, I’ve never been so insulted in all my life”. Get over yourself. The victims in last week’s attacks died for nothing. It was a waste of life. That’s what I tell them. Because someone had a gun and a shaky ego. That’s the truth. That’s what terrorism is.
While I was talking to my kids, I was thinking about the historian Niall Fergusson’s book on WWI. He says the war went on as long as it did for many reasons, not least that young men are turned on by danger. “Going over the top” gives them a massive adrenaline charge, which becomes addictive, and they can’t really believe “it” will happen to them. When I read this, it was a light bulb moment. I suddenly understood why the working-class boys I witnessed in Belfast growing up (I’m half Irish) turned to paramilitary groups: it gave them a sense of power and authority and purpose. There appears to be a limitless supply of such young men. The current situation in Syria makes me think of all the young British idealists who went to Spain to fight in the Civil War. Sometimes I wonder if National Service might actually fill the need for thrills in a safer way? My father for example did two years in Northern Ireland in the Intelligence Corps, and my father-in-law spent his youth in the Malaysian jungle during the insurgency. Aren’t we all turned on at times, by the gun-toting hard guy? Hollywood thrives on it!
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Readers, do you have anything to add, or any comments on these heart-felt responses? We’d love to hear from you!
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s Location, Locution post!
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