As Paris exploded, I was writing a book.
As the recriminations mounted, I read Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.
I’ve spent almost all of my free time since Friday the 13th either writing No Time, arguing on Facebook, or reading about physics.
It’s one Hell of a contrast.
Hawking, in a direct and engaging way, explains current ideas about how the universe came to be, the fundamental building blocks of matter and energy, the shape of galaxies and the fate of existence. He recounts a litany of human beings working together to understand the nature of the universe. He is calm, hopeful, and full of wonder. The world in A Brief History of Time is a place that can be understood through observation, cooperation, and rigor.
What a world of difference from the world where over 150 Parisians died in a bursts of gunfire and bombs, where le President orders random carpet-bombings, and where Americans of every political and cultural stripe grin at the opportunity to grandstand. Yes, France has stricter gun laws than the United States. Yes, Japan had an earthquake almost-but-not-quite-the-same-day. Yes, whatever political concerns you, personally, may have are far more important than Beirut or Paris. Yes, whatever points you want to score are appropriate in the wake of a horrific attack on sacré Paris.
It’s obvious by now that ISIS claims responsibility because of how it helps their recruitment effort. ISIS wants the refugees of the Middle East (and all Muslims) to see the world as a battle between East and West, between Right and Wrong, a clash of civilizations to tighten the trousers of Samuel Huntington and Richard Dawkins. The next day, Poland helped them immeasurably – they closed their doors to Syrian refugees. Rhetoric across the West is revving up again against the wicked mussulman and his swords and his bombs and his army of wives. If your enemies helped everybody see the world the way you do, wouldn’t you take the credit?
You know what’s not obvious? Who was actually responsible for the attacks. We’re going to have to trust les gendarmes to work that one out. Because right now, unless you read French, you probably know less about it than I do, and I know jack shit.
Some of you, and deep down you know who you are, are right now using Paris as a means of making your point. On Thursday the 12th, how many of you had heard about the attacks on Beirut? No, not ‘those people’ on your friendslist, you. You, the one sharing that clever meme about the Lebanese flag and that heartrending cartoon of all the tragedies that the media ignores. Did you know or care about Kenya on the 12th? Then why are you using Paris as a piggyback?
If you care about Beirut, show me where to give blood so it gets there. Show me where to send medical supplies. Fill my feed with that, the way I’ve been showing snide, cynical slacktivists how to actually do something to help the Parisians.
How about you? Yes, you, who went to Paris once in 1993 and hated it, but are now insisting we all #PrayforParis. Have you even read the Quran? How is it, then, you now are an expert at discerning the true intentions behind the words, and know that those intentions are murderdeathkill? Why are you worried about Islamist terrorists when study after study shows the most dangerous demographic in America is white males?
If you are eager enough to give blood to defend all we hold dear, why not give blood? You can save lives across the world, whether it’s for a specific attack or for the low-level violence and natural tragedies that make the cosmic background radiation of human life.
And you, eagerly consuming every thinkpiece on Atlantic, or FOX News, or Huffington Post, without even bothering to check the BBC or, mais non!, Le Monde? How can you possibly claim to be any better than your ideological enemies, the one you are using Paris as a cheap pipe-bomb to attack? How are you any better-informed, any better-acting, any less an asshole?
One such thinkpiece summed it up perfectly:
“Paris wasn’t just a massacre. It was a megaphone to be used for whatever you wanted to shout.”
Je m’appelle Mathieu, and it is not my Paris. It is not yours, either. I am sick and tired of the grief-shaming and the war-drum, and of everyone throwing Paris in the mud for their petty political battles. It is the City of Light, the City of #OuvrePorte, a city that is grieving and a city that is angry. It is a city in need of answers, in need of friends, and in need of peace.
I said on the 13th and I say today: Vive la France. Vive la paix. Vive le Paris.
If you can, donate to one of the aid organizations at work in Paris. Many of them also work in Beirut, which I can actually find on a map. If you can’t, sing La Marseillaise, or at least hum a few bars. Watch Mr. Rogers’ short comment about looking for the helpers, and look for the helpers next time you watch the news.
There are better things to do than argue on Facebook. Like reading Brief History of Time and looking up at the stars in wonder, or creating a new work of art, or donating a little money or blood to provide aid to Paris. One day, I’ll learn that. One day, I hope we’ll all learn that.