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Don’t forget lives lost in tragedies like Paris

12/1/15 5:02pm

My hands shook as I held a lit candle, huddled among Rice students around Willy’s statue during the vigil organized by the Boniuk Council on Sunday, Nov. 15 to honor the victims of the tragedies in Paris and Beirut on Nov. 13. As my body trembled uncontrollably and I struggled to keep my composure, I realized I was responding to a very real and palpable fear: I am afraid of the global community’s tendency to forget. How long will it be until we forget about the attacks in Paris and Beirut? We are sensitive now because the pain and fear are fresh. I panic when I think of how disengaged the general public may become with the passing of time. 

When I first heard about the attacks in Paris, I recalled the tragedies on Sept. 11, 2001 in my hometown of New York City (as well as the Washington D.C. area). As time passes, 9/11 seems more like history and less a tangible memory. On the night of Sept. 10, 2015, while thinking about the tragedy, I broke down in tears in my dorm room. The next day at lunch, I decided to talk about 9/11. While I would be performing in the Rice Chorale’s Sept. 11 concert later in the week, I hadn’t heard anyone on campus discuss the concert or even 9/11 itself. I mentioned this fact to the table of people I was sitting with, and one of them responded, “Well, maybe it’s not as big of a deal here.” I was shocked and disgusted, especially since the speaker didn’t acknowledge the gravity of the historical events.

So why do we forget about 9/11, or choose to think it’s not a big deal? The problem partially lies in how we react to tragedies. Thoughtless or politically motivated reactions distract us from the basics of the tragedies. After the Paris attacks, some politicians on Twitter used the attacks as propaganda for their own beliefs. For example, American politician Newt Gingrich tried to use the timing to make a case for the Second Amendment, tweeting, “Imagine a theater with 10 or 15 citizens with concealed carry permits. We live in an age when evil men have to be killed by good people.” How can anyone possibly think it acceptable to manipulate, twist and forcibly associate tragedy with ulterior motives, political or otherwise? In the direct aftermath of an attack, especially when limited details are available, the only appropriate response is compassion. 

Much like public responses, state responses to terrorism can also unintentionally distract from the loss of human life. Each state’s political push to show their resilience and unity, as well as a tendency to avenge their loss, has cultivated an international  “War on Terror.” The idea of a “War on Terror” groups terrorist attacks together, generalizing terrorist activity as a whole. The media typically covers the war as a cohesive idea so that we remember the general and forget the individual events. The media should certainly cover the political aftermath of terrorist attacks, but it must separately honor the innocent lives lost. We saw the shift to political ideals during the 2001 Iraq War after 9/11, and the shift can easily happen again with France’s bombing ISIS strongholds, unless the media changes its approach.

May we always commemorate the date, Nov. 13, 2015. I challenge you, reader, in the recent aftermath of these events to hold those who died in the light, and remember to mourn them every year in the future. Regardless of how you think the international community should respond to terrorism, regardless of your ethnic background, regardless of how you even define the word terrorism, I challenge you to perform a simple task: Recognize the value of the lives of those who perished. It doesn’t require a revolution, or even a Facebook post. Remembrance is simple: Spend some time recognizing how lucky you are to still be alive, and think about how will use your gift of life to honor the innocent ones we have lost.

Abagail Panitz is a Hanszen College freshman

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