It’s 5:00 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I woke up at 3:00. I know already that my daughter and her family are for now safe and sound in Paris. They have started their day and will stay close to home, following official instructions. When Naomi, my wife, wakes up, we will Skype, as we do every weekend. We will proceed according to our normal family routine on this horrific day after.
I wonder how my grandson and his parents will get through their day, but I am most disturbed about what will happen tomorrow, next week, the next years, what kind of world my grandson Ludovic, there in Paris, and my other grandson, Benjamin, here in New York, will live in. Will this madness end? The madness that for me personally started on a beautiful autumnal day in September, 2001, when New York lost a bit of innocence and when fear came to play an escalating role in American politics. As it was then, it hurts to think. As it was then, my concern is with the seductions of the stark black and white.
I am heartened that others feel the pain, recognizing the complexities, rebelling against easy answers. Facebook in this instance is helping.
My friend and colleague, Cinzia Arruzza expressed her take on the anger I feel about the present circumstance:
“In an ideal world I would not find my feed news populated either by people making islamophobic and anti-immigrant comments or people dismissing the attacks and more than 100 people dead in reaction to the fact that ‘nobody cares when the deads are not white or European’. This in an ideal world. But this is not an ideal world, and therefore I have to come across idiots of both kind. Really fuck you, both kinds of idiots. I have lost my patience for good now.”
With less anger, Zack Sunderman wisely observed:
“There were six coordinated attacks in Paris tonight, with over 100 dead. I lament not only the terrible losses of life that have occurred, but also the horrific geopolitical situation this reveals, as well as the awful responses that will be coming from various quarters. Please, keep yourself both compassionate and informed, as the world suffers when either is deficient–what to speak of both.”
And Vladimir Tismaneanu mournfully witnessed:
“Our humanity is under siege. This carnage was, is, will forever be nightmarish. As I said, it’s September 11 redux. Not to see it is moral blindness. It was not an accident, but a planned mass murder. My heart bleeds. I execrate any xenophobia and I abhor the despicable nationalist rhetoric. Let us preserve whatever grain of humanity can rescue us from the escalation of hatred. At least tonight, let us think of the victims. At least tonight, let us be allowed to mourn them, to cry for them…”
These friends bring me comfort. They have made gestures against thoughtlessness and cliché. I happen to know that they do not share political perspectives and sensibilities; that they come together, at least in my mind and in this post, gives me hope.
But this is a hope against hopelessness. Too many seem to think that they have to blame someone or some one factor: the Americans or the French or the West in general and their imperialism and colonialism, or the Muslims and their religion and civilization. There will no doubt be a xenophobic reaction in France and beyond. As pundits are saying on the web and in radio broadcasts early this morning, this will increase the appeal of the right in electoral politics, here in the U.S. and elsewhere. The disheartening, anti-democratic and illiberal trends in politics, which we have been reporting on here at Public Seminar, will escalate. The war on terrorism will escalate; the limitations on civil liberties in Europe will match the limitations in the U.S. The jihadist appeal to marginalized, disregarded Muslim youth may increase given this latest “success.” These are indeed dark times.
History or at least my experience of it is repeating itself. These were the conditions in which I wrote The Politics of Small Things: The Power of the Powerless in Dark Times. I was in a search for a ground to act. I was appalled by terrorism, anti-terrorism and anti-antiterrorism, and proposed a course of action from the bottom up that took inspiration from the anti-war movement and the Dean campaign, which did in fact turn the tide of public opinion against the war in Iraq, alas too late. Now I am highlighting another dimension, the gray is beautiful theme, revealed in my friends’ Facebook posts.
I know that this will not make the world safe for my Ludovic and Benjamin. But I would like to think it can be a guide to action. Having written this, at least it may help me go back to sleep.