Of monsters and men
Five days after the terrorist attack in Paris on Friday 13th 2015, I still didn’t believe that Friday 13th was bad luck. I had read dozens of news stories, especially about the massacre at the concert venue Bataclan. While reading one article after another, I had promised myself repeatedly not to become fearful, or not to begin to restrict my life because of the threat of terrorism. I had watched this video of a French father and son over and over again.
Then came Thursday.
In that evening, I was supposed to go to a concert in the center of Birmingham (UK). I googled the concert venue, looked at its picture and thought of myself standing inside. Suddenly, the idea of a gig I had waited for months felt uncomfortable.
I started to rationalize to myself why not going would be a completely okay thing to do: “We have already paid for the tickets. So, technically, the band will be supported no matter if I’m there or not. Me being there doesn’t matter. Right?”
Without being able to make a decision at that moment, I left for work which is also in Birmingham. At the train station, I learned that the closest train track was down. “Vandalism”, they said at the station. “Vandalism…”, I was tasting the word in my mouth suspiciously for a moment, but got a ride to another train station and found my way to the city anyway. When entering an unfamiliar station in Birmingham city center, I had no idea where the right bus stop was, so I ended up wandering in the rain for a long while. While walking back and forth, I started to realize that the city was full of police. The uncomfortable feeling inside of me grew, making me wonder if finding my way to the city today was that good idea after all. “Vandalism…”, I went back to think the word and started to think if I should have understood the formation of some bigger picture here.
When finally reaching the familiar blocks near the main train station, I noticed that the station screens were showing a video of the Queen. I didn’t think too much of it until I started to walk toward the station and I realized the number of the public and police outside. “Is the Queen, like, inside the station?” I said out loud to a man in the rain. “Yes!” he smiled and pointed to the screen: “She’s right there! She’s at the station!” The man looked so happy but I didn’t stay watching the Queen. I wanted to be as far away from the Queen and the masses I could.
At that point, walking in now pouring rain, trying to calculate the “safest” café, I admitted it to myself: I was afraid. The arrival of some kind of monster felt immanent.
I was afraid that, at any moment, I would be in the middle of a terrorist attack. So, forget my determined self-promise not to become fearful – it took one trip to the city, and here I was – running and seeking to stay safe. But seeking to stay safe from what?
The ease of giving up my promises made me think of the fear, and the decrease of reflection that comes with it. How, in the mind of a fearful, everything that happens takes the shape of a pattern that acts as a further confirmation of the fear.
Vandalism, the increased police force, the visit of the Queen, the look of a stranger.
The last one bothers me most – the suspicion and separation that so easily lingers to my mind. The instant comfort that you experience when thinking that if I just successfully keep myself separate from the ones that are evil, I will survive and everything will be okay again. I know I am not the only one to think this. I read about this every day: the fear of the terrorists becomes the fear of the Muslims that becomes the fear of the immigrants that becomes the fear of anyone who looks a bit different or looks at you a bit differently.
It makes you think that, rather than any stranger, the fear – eliciting it and reacting to it – is the monster I should be fighting against, instead of using my time to recognize the threatening stranger or the most relevant Other, or finding a café that has enough corners to hide me in. Because if not reflecting on the fear, no number of laws, fences or corners will hide me from it.
I am not an expert on terrorism, or reacting to terrorism, but lately I have read the interviews and articles of someone who is. Scott Atran’s accounts of the roots and reactions to terrorism make sense. If you have a moment, please read (1, 2) or watch them (3). It may cause you to notice that there are no monsters, just men, and dealing with that makes the story more complicated than drawing a line between us and them.
About that concert, I figured out that me being there mattered, not just the paid ticket. So I went. Thank you Of Monsters and Men.