My choice- Surrender or Victory?
I’ve been in France for a nearly three months now, and I feel comfortable enough to say that I have a relatively decent understanding of the effects France’s most recent tragedies have had on the population. For anybody who has been living in a reclusive wooden cabin in the middle of the forest, there have been numerous, devastating terrorist attacks in the last year that have resulted in high casualties and low self esteem when it comes to security in major cities.
France is not the only country to endure major acts of terrorism recently, but the scale of their two most deadly encounters with extremists, Paris (13 November 2015) and Nice (14 July 2016) have been highlighted in the media as some of the worst in the world. These sorts of attacks are heartbreaking and terrifying, but with time, the community has to return to some sort of normalcy and figure out how to go on with their lives.
Moving on after tragedy is hard enough on its own, but when the time comes for another highly publicized event, all of the emotions of fear and trauma arise again to torment the minds of every citizen within a 20 mile radius. Terrorism inevitable succeeds in its goal to instil terror simply by attacking and causing grief, but the extent to which it can truly succeed in breaking our society depends on how much control we give that fear. It was not until my host family told me to pay extra for a refundable train ticket to Strasbourg for the annual Christmas Market that I realized just how strong the hold of terrorism is here in France. My host family warned me that they might cancel the Christmas Market, just like they had canceled a festival in Lille last weekend and an air show in Marseille last month.
For some reason, hearing them talk about this broke my heart and filled it with fire; I honestly don’t think I have ever felt as bitter and angry as I did at that moment. I hated it. I hated that the French people were giving in. I hated that they were ready to ignore tradition for the sake of security. I don’t have a very extensive French vocabulary, but I managed to make my feelings quite clear in a three word phrase. “Je deteste ça.” I hissed.
My host family then looked at me very surprised and almost looked offended. I went on to tell them that the entire point of terrorist attacks is to make us live in fear and to make us feel unsafe- like every city is a war zone and every crowd surrounded by hostile soldiers. If we adopt that mentality, then they win. We say that we are engaged in a war on terror but if that’s true, then each time we cancel an event or chose not to go to a concert or a soccer match because of safety concerns, we lose a battle.
We keep surrendering.
I couldn’t seem to get this across to my host family- they didn’t understand why I was so upset. After all, this was meant to protect me. But the thing is, I want to make my own choice whether or not I go to that Christmas market. I want to decide whether I think the war against terror is a cause worth risking my life for.
If I wanted to shelter myself completely from danger in the United States, then maybe I wouldn’t go to school or shopping malls because of all of the mass shootings. I would never go to concerts or walk down Newbury Street or go watch the start of the Boston Marathon. But I choose to do all of those things because I chose to have faith in law enforcement and faith that the more I demonstrate my endurance despite the constant reminders of danger, the more I prove to terrorists that terrorism doesn’t work. Why? Because I chose to ignore it. I will respect the ones who have died in this war and I will be more cautious when I attend high profile events, but I refuse to stop living my life.
I choose to adapt to my new reality, not hide from it, and I trust my fellow citizens and government officials to do the same. I will ignore the flood of emails I receive daily from the State Department reminding me to avoid crowds, areas of worship, concerts, demonstrations, and basically every else that I walk past every day. I live in a world terror that I cannot escape, so I chose to live in spite of fear to prove that we will win this war.
I am alive and I am not afraid; I have already won.