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Solidarity and “Je suis Paris”


This is a guest post by Melissa K. Byrnes, who is Associate Professor of History at Southwestern University. Her research focuses on issues of migration, French Muslims, empire, activism, and human rights. She is finishing a book on post-1945 community activism for North African rights and welfare in the suburbs of Paris and Lyon. This post was written before the Saint-Denis happenings of this morning and she will have a follow up post covering them tomorrow, hopefully.

The moment the news broke about the horrendous attacks in Paris last Friday, a wave of mourning washed over the globe. From world leaders’ pronouncements to the tricolor-ization of Facebook profiles, nearly everyone, it seemed, was moved to demonstrate their connections with Paris and their allegiance to its values and symbolism. “Je suis Paris” echoed from all corners. The city of Paris seems uniquely powerful in its ability to marshal solidarity.

Of course, the Paris attacks fell only a day after the Islamic State perpetrated a horrific attack on Beirut–the deadliest suicide bombing in that city in more than twenty-five years. Beirut, though, is not receiving the same attention as Paris, and there are precious few Lebanese flags lighting up social media or global monuments. This leads to questions about the value we place on the lives of those who are not “Western,” who are not white.

In this context, “Je suis Paris” can be deeply problematic, an emblem of racial difference, an invocation of the idea that certain lives, and certain cultures, are more precious than others. “Je suis Paris” might mean that I am not—nor do I wish to see—anything that does not derive directly from a narrowly-defined canon of Western civilization. “Je suis Paris” can say that “they” are not. Intended as a heartfelt statement of togetherness, “Je suis Paris” has the power to deny solidarity.

It is easy for “Paris” to mean whiteness and wealth, empire and privilege and power. But that is not—and has never been—the only face of the city. Real Paris is far more rich and colorful, but it has its dark neighborhoods—places of poverty, of exclusion, of frustration and loss. Paris has forgotten corners, rooms of solitude and misery, communities from whom the majority has turned away, individuals who daily face discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and all the ills that follow from these. If “Je suis Paris,” than I am also all of these.

Yet Paris’s history is also one of expanding solidarity. Its glory derives from its ability to welcome new peoples, new ideas, new dreams. Paris converts us. Parisians have long been trouble-makers, thorns in the side of authority, the lifeblood of revolutions and progress. The newly ubiquitous French flag derived from Paris itself. Red and blue were the colors of the rebellious city with whom the king sought to make peace in 1789 (while the royal Bourbon white remained in the flag, the monarchy itself did not survive). For centuries, Parisians have demanded rights for and solidarity with the down-trodden. Paris has been the destination of refugees, revolutionaries, and political exiles. Above all, it has called countless generations of migrants—from all across the world—who have each made their contributions and sacrifices to the city.

Paris also reaches into the suburbs on the margins of French society—suburbs like Bobigny, Nanterre, and Sarcelles that are home to large minority communities; suburbs like Saint-Denis that have, it turns out, much to teach us. My first research trip on the 13-Metro line out to Saint-Denis was in October 2005. I was immediately impressed by the close attention city officials had paid to predominantly Muslim North African migrants and the relationships they built. In the 1950s, for example, Saint-Denis’s mayor was outspoken in his support for Algerian nationalists fighting for independence and scathing in his critiques of the French imperial system that sought to subjugate and marginalize Algerians in North Africa and on the French mainland. He and his colleagues invoked a sense of solidarity, a workers’ brotherhood that did not recognize national divisions, a common struggle against oppression. The city offered a host of social programs for local North African migrants and attempted to bring migrants into the active political community to affect policies at the local, regional, and national levels.

In less than a month, I witnessed just how powerful these local traditions were. In November 2005, the suburbs of Paris and other major French cities were engulfed in riots, sparked by the deaths of two boys of African descent who had been chased by police. The worst of the violence—mostly the destruction of property and the very French tradition of burning cars—was in the surrounding region of Seine-Saint-Denis. And yet the city of Saint-Denis itself did not have a single incident The city’s habits of inclusion—developed to address the needs of nineteenth-century European migrants (Bretons, Italians, Spaniards) and readily adapted in the mid-twentieth century for North and Sub-Saharan Africans—had ensured its safety. While state officials—and many individuals—redoubled discriminatory rhetoric and policies, Saint-Denis’s city hall hosted open meetings and decried prejudice.

paris 13 Nov 15

Photo of Place de Republique, Sunday, November 15 used with permission of photographer

The Stade de France, one of the targets in Friday evening’s murderous attacks, is in Saint-Denis. Yet, even in the face of bloody, senseless brutality, the city’s commitment to solidarity and openness has held. The current mayor’s first statement on Friday evening called on the community not to “give way to fear.” On Sunday, he elaborated*

By attacking the northeast of Paris and the neighborhood around the Stade de France, the terrorists targeted sites of diversity, of social inclusion, youth, tolerance, and openness to others.

Now as ever, terrorism must be combatted in an implacable manner, relentlessly.

Now as ever, it is by coming together that we will be stronger than they are.

Let us reject the confusion and the hatred of others that encourage turning inwards, racism, the lure of radicalism, and violence. Let us stand in solidarity. Let us proclaim, loud and strong, our will to live together and our attachment to the democratic values of liberty, equality, fraternity.

Perhaps we should all be saying, “Je suis Saint-Denis.”

Solidarity is a powerful weapon and shield. France’s military response—to continue (even strengthen) its role in the Syrian airstrikes—is understandable and expected. This was, after all, the policy that the attackers in Paris purportedly sought to undo. Yet in the medium- to long-term, militarization is not the answer—especially not within France’s own borders. This weekend’s state of emergency must give way quickly to a resumption of openness, lest France tread too far down the path of an enhanced security state. France must also consider the connections between the underlying causes of the current refugee crisis and the agenda of those who launched the Paris attacks. Solidarity must cut across borders and social divisions.

The spirit of open doors swept across Paris on Friday evening; #porteouverte was used (in many languages) to invite people into private homes and other safe spaces, to wait out the chaos together. A logical extension—though a difficult one—would be to open doors to other victims of the Islamic State’s terror and brutality. As many have pointed out Syrian and other refugees have long been victims of such attacks. A significant number of the refugees streaming into Europe are fleeing the Islamic State and the Syrian Civil War. Though panic has led to demands that borders slam shut (even in parts of the US) welcoming refugees into Western Europe would be prudent as well as humane. Extremist groups like the Islamic State count on their violence to sow division. Far better to embrace Muslim residents (citizens and refugees alike), to stand with them in a show of strength and unity against extremism and violence.


Solidarity also requires denouncing senseless violence against civilians across the world and mourning publicly with those they’ve left behind. Because if we are Paris, we must also be Beirut—and Damascus, and Baghdad and Baga We must pay attention to atrocities and suffering even when they don’t occur on our doorstep—Friday evening showed us just how quickly these can show up.

In 1789, Paris’s revolutionaries knew that true liberty and equality require fraternity in order to flourish. It’s time we remember what real solidarity means—and begin to act in its name.

*my translation

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  • J. Otto Pohl

    The Lebanese attacks generated very little publicity compared to Paris true. But, even they got more attention including in your post than the attack today not too far from where I live. So I guess it is all relative. The French are whiter than the Lebanese and the Lebanese are whiter than the victims of today’s bombing.


  • Great Essay, thanks for posting it. I visited the area around St. Denis last time I was in Paris, on my way to pay hommage to Abbot Suger and his great gothic cathedral.

    I have very mixed feelings about the comparison between the Paris Bombing and the Beirut Bombings. I just can’t put the difference entirely down to racism although I might also argue that its overdetermined, you can’t get below the racism to anything other or more real. Nevertheless I’m tired of the facile assertion that the western world’s media attention to Paris but not Nigeria, Paris but not Beirut, etc..etc..etc… is strictly a sign of racism.

    I think there is a tendency among everyone to avert the eyes from strife and death that is seen as internal to another country’s political situation. Other than wringing our hands and saying “how awful” can anyone explain to me what the basis for complaint or condemnation is? Beirut has been being bombed, and has been bombing itself essentially, for almost half a century. It practically gave us the term war torn. I can’t tell you who is doing what to whom at this point but I can be pretty sure that it has been this way, tit for tat, for a very long time.

    Meanwhile Paris is a part of our collective story partially for historically contingent reasons (Lafayette we are here!) and partially because people can imagine themselves going to Paris and sitting in those chairs to be shot. A state of war that breaks out on a quiet fall evening in a place that is not a front line for territorial war is always going to be news. A continuing state of warfare in a place that is already war torn is, almost definitionally, not going to be news.

    • River Birch

      Yeah, totally agree. We can picture ourselves in Paris — we have been there or want to go, we have some idea of French culture, some mental picture of the place. As you say, there are deep historical links between us and the French. Whereas most Americans know nothing of Lebanon or its culture, may never have even heard of it, etc.

      Racism may explain why we don’t care about the bombing in Lebanon, but even if they received equal coverage to the minute, I don’t think it explains why we care about Paris more.

      • ThrottleJockey

        Racism may explain why we don’t care about the bombing in Lebanon, but even if they received equal coverage to the minute, I don’t think it explains why we care about Paris more.

        Yes racism only goes so far in explaining our reactions to this. On Saturday the day after the attack, I believe there were ~6 posts on the attack here at LGM. That’s maybe 3 times the typical number of Saturday posts. Its hard to imagine that racism by itself drove this intensity. What the Paris attack did is to make us question how vulnerable we are here stateside to that kind of violence. Neither Beirut, nor Mumbai before it, could make us feel that naked and exposed.

    • Karen24

      Yes to you and River Birch. I’ve been to Paris and so have most of my friends. I have a friend who lives there now. There’s an apartment complex in Austin that used to be called Villa Paris, with picture of the Eiffel Tower on its sign. I buy French cheese almost every week. (Kirkland brie from Costco is an entire food group at my house.) My son is taking French right now. The ties between the US and France are old and tight, and not just because the French are also within the Pale of White. (No, I’m not apologizing for tht pun. I’ve been saving it for years.)

      I also think Aimai is correct in noting that bombs in Beirut have been a constant thing since the late 60’s. There are complicted historical reasons for that, and I do think many people just roll their eyes and dismiss such things as “what THOSE people do,” but the racism doesn’t alter the fact that Beirut has been a violent place for years and Paris hasn’t.

      • Although Beirut has been getting less violent over the last couple decades. That’s a big reason Hezbollah’s war with Israel was such a mess, that the Israelis bombed Beirut and undid some of the progress of the 90’s and 00’s.

      • sonamib

        Uh if you count the 60’s, Paris used to be quite violent at the time. You had the fascist pro-colonial organization OAS roaming about, plotting murder and almost managing to kill De Gaulle. The Algerian nationalists, the FLN, were also doing their own bombings. There were racist curfews imposed only on the Algerian. When they defied it with a peaceful demonstration, this happened (the death toll is comparable to that of last Friday).

        Obviously, it was way less violent than Beirut at the time, but by the Paris 60’s standard, what happened last week there was “normal”.

        • I don’t think so–do you? I lived in Paris in 1969, admittedly after the big student riots, and passed through in 1982 when someone bombed the Place St. Michel metro stop, where I happened to be staying with a friend. Was that really anythign like the violence that we just saw last week? I don’t think so.

          • CP

            I don’t think there was ever any attack that reached the scale of the Friday 13th attacks, but bombings and shootings by the OAS, that was definitely a thing. See also. Including attempted hits on De Gaulle himself. The French government was about as freaked out about that as it is about the jihadist threat today. Understandably, since the OAS’s ultimate goal was to overthrow them – and it was made up of former French military, intelligence and security characters of the type who’d already brought down the Fourth Republic, so unlike with most terrorists, it wasn’t just an impotent threat.

            This was early sixties, though, it would’ve been all in the past by the time you got there.

            Later on in the seventies and eighties, you had Action Directe, a left-wing radical group of the kind that existed in just about every Western nation (Italian Red Brigades, Japanese Red Army, Baader-Meinhoff Gang). But that never reached the same scale of threat. There was also some separatist violence from the FLNC (Corsican), but I think most of that was concentrated on the island.

            Edit: the 1982 thing you were talking about appears to have been ASALA (Armenian nationalist) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_Secret_Army_for_the_Liberation_of_Armenia

          • sonamib

            I linked to the Paris “ratonnade” of 1961 when French policemen (under the orders of a Vichy thug) killed 40-200 peaceful FLN sympathizers* in Paris. Ok, it was the state doing the killing but still, dozens of people died.

            You are right that in 1969 things were more quiet, because the war of Algerian independence was long over.

            *Edit : they were actually demonstrating against a racist curfew which targeted only Muslims.

            • CP

              Yep, I remember you linking that. French history when it comes to North Africa, that war, and its legacy (not least the treatment of the harkis) is a truly ugly gift that keeps on giving.

              As for the Vichy thug in question… I remember moving to Paris as a kid in 1997 when the big news in all the papers was his being put on trial (after decades of serving in trusted positions under various French governments) for his actions in World War Two. There’s something about learning that a criminal from a war two generations removed from you has been in plain sight for fifty years and the authorities are just now getting to him that made quite an impression at the time.

              Over the next few years he’d pop up in the news again every now and then. He was found guilty, tried to flee the country rather than face the music, failed and was re-captured, only to ultimately be released again as an act of mercy on account of old age and health reasons. In other words, he basically went to the grave having completely escaped any punishment for his crimes. Unfortunately not the only Vichyist to do so.

        • ThrottleJockey

          The Sixties was a long time ago my friend.

          • sonamib

            I wasn’t the one who brought up the sixties, read the post I’m replying to.

    • LeeEsq

      I felt similarly towards the people who argued that Charlie Hebdo was punching down rather than punching up during the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Irreverence towards religion and other ideas considered traditional or orthodox has been an important part of comedy in the West for centuries. Mocking tradition was hard and well-thought for right. Simply because most Muslims would be classified as people of color does not give Islam the religion greater immunity from irreverence than Christianity or Judaism in my opinion. If you want to live in the West than knowing that there are people who will mock or criticize your religion or any other religion is just part of the bargain.

      • sonamib

        I felt similarly towards the people who argued that Charlie Hebdo was punching down rather than punching up during the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

        Guilty as charged. I’m totally one of those. But I’m sorry, the rest of your post is arguing against a strawman. The problem with some of the Charlie Hebdo caricatures and editorials wasn’t that they criticized Islam, the problem was that they were racist. For example, an editorial from Philippe Val in january 2005 said that the Vichy regime’s antisemite policies were by default an arab policy (link in French). It’s stuff like that that were pissing off people for a long time. But of course [insert here an obvious disclaimer about terrorism not being a remotely appropriate response].

        • Roberta

          I haven’t seen the Jan 2005 editorial, but assuming your characterization of it is accurate: Charlie Hebdo also published anti-racist content. For instance, denouncing xenophobic immigration policies. Saying “Charlie Hebdo was punching down” is painting with too broad a brush. IMO, while its cartoons were tasteless, and maybe it printed some racist things, it also punched up a lot, and proportionally way more often than most newspapers.

          I also don’t think LeeEsq is attacking a strawman. Some people really did, and do, argue that mocking or criticizing Islam was punching down and therefore inappropriate.

          • sonamib

            Ok, parts of the Charlie Hebdo staff, namely Caroline Fourest and Philippe Val loved to write some Islamophobic content. Other parts of Charlie Hebdo were great. No contradiction there, my favorite cartoonist is absolutely brilliant about Belgian and French politics but he’s also got a big chip in the shoulder about black people and trans women. I laugh at the worthwhile cartoons and ignore the others. But I understand that for some people the racist stuff might be a dealbreaker, and I don’t blame them, they do have a point.

            And yes, there certainly were people arguing that any criticism of Islam was unacceptable, so you’re right that Lee wasn’t using a strawman. But still, I think you ought to adress the stronger arguments, and not pretend that the weak arguments are the be-all and end-all of the side you’re arguing against.

          • LeeEsq

            There has to be a difference between making fun of people from ethnicities that practice Islam and making fun of Islam itself. Islam is a religion and like all religions and ideologies can’t be immune from mockery. Deploring cartoons that depict all Arabs as terrorists bent on destroying the West is appropriate. Saying that Islam the religion can’t be made fun of in the same way that Christianity or other religions are made fun of is wrong.

            What Charlie Hebdo did struck me as fine because they were making fun of Islam the religion in the same way that made fun of Christianity or Judaism, and they always used a stereotypical Ultra-Orthodox Jew to represent Judaism or a Catholic priest to represent Christianity.

      • shah8

        At the core:

        People who try to talk up the situation/sentiment that Muslims are more prone to be upset about blasphemy than any other cultures are largely attempting to actively or passively make the argument that faithful Muslims cannot assimilate into advanced societies that holds liberties in high regard. Mohamed drawing contests were always deeply racist from the start, and they were always bait for the idiots in minority groups to fulfill the dominant racist’ expectations.

        and yeah, Charlie Hebdo was racist as fuck.

    • libarbarian

      During my childhood, Beirut was synonymous with “war torn city where bombs go off daily”.

    • Thom

      I think part of Professor Byrnes’ point is that we need to start imagining ourselves in other places. And violence is neither constant in Beirut (an American reporter was saying on NPR the other day that her life there was “mostly normal”) nor new to Pairs. In the early 1970s, an El Al airliner was attacked at the Paris airport, with automatic weapons. After the Friday attacks, I was in touch with an American friend who used to live in Paris, and left more than 15 years ago. He said that two of the restaurants hit were on either side of his old apartment building, but also said that there were two bombings on that street (not a long one) while he lived there. Other friends have lived in Beirut with no such experiences. A lot depends on timing.

  • This is a very good piece and I don’t have any big objections to it, just a small quibble. In the abstract it may be true that we should show similar solidarity with Baghdad or Beirut, the fact is few of us have been to either of those cities, while Paris is deeply ingrained in our literary and film and music cultures. Many of us have been to those neighborhoods–even in this essay that familiarity comes out strongly–so the distance is much less than required to actually feel solidarity with people in Beirut. And I say that despite having many friends who’ve lived in Beirut (I went to school and lived in Dearborn, MI) and know what the city means to Lebanese who want it to continue back to a beacon of sophistication, tolerance and cosmopolitanism. I just don’t feel it the way I do about Paris, where I’ve been in those neighborhoods where the attacks occurred, and even seen a show at Bataclan.

    • Vance Maverick

      Indeed. Does the author feel it’s wrong that Americans visit and know some foreign countries more than others?

      • alex284

        I think that leaves a lot out, though, the idea that people (americans, of course) care more about paris because they’ve visited. Because a lot of the people on the teevee telling us to drop an atomic bomb on syria have never been to paris and hate the french.

        Yes, part of it is the mythos of Paris. But I agree with the OP that part of it is racism.

    • LeeEsq

      Exactly. Like I said bellow, Paris is an extraordinarily important city for the West and its been that way for centuries. Its just simple human psychology to feel more concern about places that you or your culture deem important than not.

      • Steve LaBonne

        We should never be conscious of, and consider resisting, the default settings of our psychology?

        • River Birch

          We absolutely should, but doesn’t a more nuanced examination of those settings, as many commenters here are exploring, serve that end? Or is racism a sufficient explanation?

          • Steve LaBonne

            There’s no possibility that unconscious racism is part of those default settings?

            • River Birch

              It is part of those settings, certainly. But racism, conscious or not, doesn’t fully explain why more Americans have been or dream of going to Paris than Beirut; or have had more exposure to French art, literature and film than to Lebanese; or learned French in high school instead of Arabic; or why France and the U.S. have historical ties that don’t exist to Lebanon.

              • Steve LaBonne

                Obviously I know these things. The question is whether they’re really an ethically defensible basis for allocating our concern. I know also that they inevitably will be a basis regardless, but I am not inclined, as some apparently are, to mock those who suggest that maybe we should work harder at overriding our default settings.

                • Philip

                  A friend made a good point over the weekend on Facebook:

                  we live in an era of extremely rapid access to tragedy, and we can’t but be selective as to what we grieve about. The mechanism of selection is both personal (based on what is adjacent to our daily experience: e.g., I was extremely concerned about the tour bus crash here in SF because a cyclist was critically injured in a place that I’ve often bicycled) and systemic. But the way to combat systemic biases in grieving is at a societal level; it makes no sense to attack individuals for it.

                  There’s just so much bad stuff going on that we now have exposure to. We’re always going to have to be selective in where our grief and outrage falls, and it’s not clear to me that, at the individual level, these defaults are worse than any other way of allocating grief and outrage. Or honestly, even that individuals can consciously reallocate them.

                • River Birch

                  Honest question, would you argue that if someone finds the Paris attacks affect them more deeply than the bombing in Lebanon, that person is necessarily consciously or unconsciously racist?

                • More I think about this, more it seems to me that alleging racism is the reason there would be more interest in Paris than Beirut is founded on an ignorance of Paris as it exists in 2015, or an assumption that anyone who feels more strongly about Paris probably doesn’t realize it’s not just a bunch of white people whose families go back generations in France. I can’t speak to the first explanation, but the second one seems an ungenerous and, in many cases, inaccurate assumption.

                • The popular perception of Paris is pretty bloody white and I can’t see how anyone can say this isn’t true. And many of the people who are most claiming solidarity with Paris are people who think of this as an attack on whites are those who fear an attack on whites in the U.S. by the same people.

                • Roberta

                  My individual concern isn’t a public resource. I don’t need to allocate it in an egalitarian way. I’m going to feel more for my family, my friends, my community, and locations that are personally significant to me, than I am for those who are more distant. Even though racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, religious bigotry, global politics, etc. all affect who I have the opportunity to get attached to, and who I don’t. I will still post on Facebook about mourning the death of my local public librarian, and not necessarily the death of someone in Syria.

                  If you want to talk about the allocation of things that are public resources, like public statements by officials, institutional money and aid, troops, and institutional efforts in avoiding murder (for lack of a better way of putting it), then yes, we do need to justify how we allocate those things. But those things aren’t individual feelings, and they’re mostly not and shouldn’t be allocated purely on the basis of individual feelings.

                • About a third of the people in the Paris region are either foreign-born or have at least one parent not born in France. Those of European background are a small percentage of that third.

                  I’m not sure how widely it’s assumed Paris is still overwhelmingly native white French. But let’s stipulate it is, that doesn’t mean it’s accurate, and it doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of people who are aware it’s inaccurate, and as such, it’s a poor indication that people feeling more solidarity with Paris are doing so out of racism.

                • I really love Roberta’s point. Just wanted to second it.

                  I also want to point out that we just aren’t talking about a unitary thing when we talk about the Paris of media imagination. The right wing in this country, and its mouthpieces, has always flip flopped between romanticizing a pure and ethnically homogenous “europe” and attacking the actual europeans as weak, compromised, lily livered, gay, communist, smelly, traitors to “the west.” They run like frightened hamsters from images of the west under attack to images of France as a sell out. These people think Paris got what it deserved but also that if we don’t stand with a reactionary paris we will be next.

                • Yes, Roberta’s point is very important. When we talk about solidarity, it’s not something inherent, I don’t think, but something that requires some will, some intention, and usually, familiarity either with the people, or a bond through a cause, an allegiance, a devotion, a shared experience or status or value. Because many people are familiar with Paris but aren’t with regional colleges in Nigeria, or Beirut, or even Baghdad, solidarity begins as more of an abstraction, a perceived imperative, and is not as strong. But with Paris, our familiarity has already, in most cases (especially, it should be said, if you’re white) laid groundwork to make the solidarity more instinctual, or at least partially developed.

                • alex284

                  I live in Paris, I host Americans at my place in a mostly black/north african neighborhood, and I could fill up a lake with the number of times I’ve heard some permutation of “Why are there so many people of color in Paris?”

                  I remember reading a conservative foreign policy “expert” a few years ago go on about how non-white immigration to Europe must be really recent because he visited Paris in the 90’s and everyone seemed really white to him.

                  Loomis is right here. For most (white) Americans, Paris (and France) is a White Wonderland.

        • LeeEsq

          Individuals should be conscious of and consider resisting default psychology settings but this is only possible as an individual. When groups of people react to situation than default settings are going to manifest themselves because reflection tends to be an individual rather than group thing. And no, I don’t think that people are capable of shamming people into reconsidering default settings. People who are going to read articles on why caring for Paris more than Beirut is at least kind of racist are most likely already in agreement.

    • Fats Durston

      What if the bomb and attacks had gone off in the neighborhoods surrounding La Azteca? More Americans are tourists in Mexico than France; there are far more Mexican-Americans than French-Americans; “we” Americans have deep cultural ties in film and food to Mexico; far more in the U.S. speak Spanish as a second language than French.

      Do anywhere near as many Mexican flags get filtered over Facebook profiles then?

      • I’ve been thinking about this issue and I think there’s a difference between identifyign with the culture/people in the country under attack and identifying with the tourists in a tourist destination when tourists are attacked. Look at the frequent attacks on European Tourists in a place like Sharm el Shaikh? Egypt and places like that are actually tourist destinations for the British and French and when tourists are specifically targeted the sympathy (such as it is) goes to them and their home countries rather than to the country in which they were targeted.

        I don’t have an exact argument here but I just want to point out that terrorism is a particular kind of violence that is targeted at destroying solidarity and destroying hopeful and righteous action. Its aim is to terrorize, depress, isolate, cut off–in Nigeria Boko Haram’s aim is to destroy westernization, women’s education, families that don’t fit its hyper islamic model, non islamic tradition, independent thought and action. In Paris its aim is to drive a wedge between European citizens and Syrian or other Muslim immigrants.

        It makes a difference whether its targets and its goals are purely in-country or aimed at transnational communities and relations. It is different from wars for land, or even from an internal war for ideological control. And when we are talking about how it makes us feel that is one thing. When we are talking about what we should do that is another. Because different people (different kinds of political actors) are being mobilized (action) through/because of feelings and emotions.

        I guess this ended up being a longer comment than poor Fats Durston deserved. I’ve got to run so I won’t be able to pitch in for a while. But I did want to post this because the original essay/blog post is really beautiful and thought provoking and although I argued with some aspects of it upthread I really liked it and agreed with much of it.

      • sonamib

        What if the bomb and attacks had gone off in the neighborhoods surrounding La Azteca? More Americans are tourists in Mexico than France; there are far more Mexican-Americans than French-Americans; “we” Americans have deep cultural ties in film and food to Mexico; far more in the U.S. speak Spanish as a second language than French.

        Do anywhere near as many Mexican flags get filtered over Facebook profiles then?

        Thank you, you’ve hit the nail on the head on this one.

        And I’ll take a minute to point out that I have a visceral revulsion to any flag displays. So much bullshit has been done in the name of nationalism. Flags have too much baggage and by waving it you’re unwittingly or not reinforcing conservative positions.

        I do like the mashup between the Eiffel tower and the hippie peace symbol.

      • wjts

        Do anywhere near as many Mexican flags get filtered over Facebook profiles then?

        No, but to be honest I can’t imagine a whole bunch of “Eu seu Lisboa”s or “Jeg er Oslo”s in the wake of something like this happening in Portugal or Norway. There are a bunch of different factors at play here.

        • Fats Durston

          I can’t imagine a whole bunch of “Eu seu Lisboa”s or “Jeg er Oslo”s

          Nor can I, but the defenses that most people are supplying involve cultural, tourist, and historical connections, and outside of the Upper Midwest, I’d say those connections are pretty scanty for Portugal and Norway*. Other interesting “case studies” that we shall hope never come to pass (again, in some cases): Barcelona, London, Moscow, Tel Aviv, Rome, Berlin. (With the latter we’d have to face jelly donut wiseacres.)

          And are you arguing that the Portuguese are white?!**

          *I am not of the class who tours Europe, so maybe I’m wrong here, but a whole shitload of my Facebook feed ain’t the kind of people who’ve been to Paris, neither.

          **I keed, I keed.

          • wjts

            I can imagine it for London and (maybe) Rome, certainly, but not really any of the others. But the fact that Paris provokes this sentiment even when other European centers wouldn’t is, I think, telling of factors at play beyond simply racism/Eurocentrism. For a variety of reasons, Paris has an outsize role in many people’s consciousness – how many other cities inspire an eponymous psychological disorder?*

            *One. Jerusalem.

            • sonamib


              • wjts


        • alex284

          I can. Anders brevek (sp) killed a bunch of people in Norway and there was a lot of solidarity for the victims. I don’t remember if there was a catchphrase, but people cared about those victims.

          Now imagine if that shooter were Muslim and not a rightwinger….

  • Simple Mind

    A very appropriate post.

    Although it’s been 10 years since I last visited Paris, I was then surprised by the long blocks of hamams, halal butcher shops and Muslim-identified shops and businesses along the elevated tracks to the Gare du Nord. In the concourses of the Metro, “evangelizers” of Islam were earnestly button-holing Asian and African passer-byes. It would appear that in the outskirts of many major cities (e.g. Lille or Marseilles), Islam offers strength, inspiration and perhaps even a safety net to the working poor (example of Franck Ribéry). But there is the inescapable fact that in the burbs there are legions of young men who feel distinctly non-French, excluded and looking for purpose.

  • LeeEsq

    Paris is a much more important city for modern Western civilization than Beirut or many other places hurt by ISIL so it is kind of natural that people in the West would feel more sympathy for it. During the 18th century, it was the base of the Enlightenment where many of the ideas of liberalism originated from. It was a certain of art, culture, science, politics and mass tourism during the 19th and 20th century. More Westerners have been to Paris and have fond memories of being in Paris than they do of Beirut.

    Paris also has a much larger media presence than Beirut or many other places in the world so naturally when something big happens, there will be lots of journalists available to automatically cover the situation.

    Its that simple. There isn’t a big evil on why Paris is getting more attention than Beirut. People tend to care more about people they view like them than not like them because humans are tribal creatures. Places deemed important and relatively safe like Paris, New York, or Beijing have more media presence than places deemed less important, not important, or important but very dangerous like Beirut (important now but dangerous), Lyon (less important than Paris), or Columbia, Missouri (interesting right now but not important for the most part).

    • And Paris is more familiar to many of us as a type of city: the cosmopolitan, pluralistic, polyglot city of the world. If you know New York, or Chicago (or, at least parts of the city), or LA, or Toronto, or London, than you see Paris as more like your own city, with people from all over the world, than a far less racially and culturally and religiously mixed city like Baghdad, or even Beirut.

      • LeeEsq

        Like you noted above, Paris is such setting for fiction that even if you have never been to Paris or another big, cosmopolitan city in your life than you probably at least glanced at something that took place in Paris or France and have some imagining of it.

        Even outside the Western world, Paris is a big part of the popular imagination. A lot of Asian chain bakeries, including one near my office in Manhattan, love to use the imagery of the Parisian bakery for their design motifs.

      • Hogan

        Beirut is actually pretty cosmopolitan.

        • Used to be even more so, before the long civil war.

          • Absolutely—my grandparents used to pass through on their way through the Middle East and to Pakistan in the 60’s and they remembered it very fondly as the “Paris of the Middle East.”

            • LeeEsq

              The French played a big part in the politics of the region since 1860 and had more than a little influence on the design of Beirut. It isn’t really that shocking that Beirut has a Parisian feel.

        • Yes, of course; it’s long been called the Paris of the Middle East. But it’s still mostly people of Middle Eastern background.

          • sonamib

            But Beirut is more *religiously* mixed than Paris, right? I mean, they’ve had some wars over it and all.

            • No, Beirut is more religiously balanced, between Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Maronite and Orthodox and Armenian Christians, and Druze. But the mix of religions in Paris is greater–all of the above, plus Roman Catholicism, Greek/Romanian/Russian/etc Orthodoxy, various forms of Protestantism and Judaism, and African and Asian religions.

  • apropos

    Is nothing sacred to you people?

    A horrible tragedy is committed and the world looks up from its smartphone long enough to express a small amount of shared humanity, and your reaction is “Gosh, do you all have to be such vile racists ignoring the similar plight of brown people elsewhere?”

    This is the same mentality that led black protestors at Missouri to forcibly segregate their white allies into a different room, literally recreating their own separate-but-equal past.

    • “You people.”

      Thank you for demonstrating you didn’t read a single comment on this thread.

      • Lee Rudolph

        You can’t spell “Je suis” without putting “I” in the middle of “Jesus”!

    • alex284

      Um, er, I don’t think anyone said “vile.” Talking about racism in the wake of an attack where racism obviously played a part (and will definitely play a part in various reactions) is totally legit, unless you think that racism isn’t real and is just a little fluffy topic people toss around to pass the time.

      I also don’t think that everyone expressing solidarity looked up from their smartphones – a lot of that solidarity was happening online.

  • wjts

    Yet Paris’s history is also one of expanding solidarity.

    Part of which (if you’ll permit some nitpickery that I don’t think detracts from the overall point of the post) is an ugly history of imposing Parisian solidarity on other people, ranging from the linguistic imperialism directed against speakers of Occitan in the South and Breton in the Northwest to the excesses of the Terror.

    • Cheerful

      Though if you want to go down that road there was the imposition of a fair amount of violence on Paris by the “Versailles” french in order to crush the Commune

      • wjts

        Sure, but as these things tend to shake out in the overall history of France, Paris is pretty clearly less sinned against than sinning.

    • sonamib

      Apart from English, French is indeed the European language that has most successfully eradicated its dialects. Whether you go to Germany, Italy, Spain or the Netherlands, every small town or region has their own regional dialect, which is sometimes quite different from the standard language. Try understanding Bavarians talking to each other, even if you speak good Hochdeutsch.

      • The Dark Avenger

        The same is true of China, cities and towns have their own dialect of Mandarin or Cantonese, and there is also a difference between the Cantonese spoken by city dwellers and that used by their country cousins.

  • grouchomarxist

    France’s military response—to continue (even strengthen) its role in the Syrian airstrikes—is understandable and expected. This was, after all, the policy that the attackers in Paris purportedly sought to undo.

    If I’m reading this right, I have to disagree. ISIS’ strategy is to provoke military responses from the West, not undo them. It’s impossible to say whether the attackers were thinking in strategic terms, but I strongly suspect they knew they’d provoke a military response.

    • libarbarian

      ISIS’ strategy is to provoke military responses from the West

      True. But Daesh ALSO wants to end the airstrikes. It’s both a terrorist organization AND a proto-state with a more-or-less conventional army. From what I understand, the airstrikes – at least those done in coordination with and support of Kurdish and other ground forces – deserve a decent chunk of the credit for keeping them from having taken more territory. I’d like to hear from Mr Farley on this … as I assume he knows more than me about both the theory & practice of air power as well as the specifics of the current air campaign against Daesh.

      Anyways, since the fall of populated areas to Daesh is generally accompanied by mass executions of men and the sexual enslavement of young women, helping prevent their territorial expansion is a worthy goal.

      • alex284

        I can see both arguments – Daesh wants a war with the West for whatever ideological reasons, or Daesh thought that a retaliation would stop the bombings of its territories.

        Other than mind-reading, I don’t know if we can resolve that here. And I don’t know if the attackers could either – all meaning is applied and the European-born attackers might have put anger and hate first and reasoning second.

  • Karen24

    Slighly off-topic, but I would love to read more from this author, and not the least because my son is applying to Southwestern and wants to major in history.

    • Thom

      We’d love to have him come talk to us! Melissa Byrnes is in London this semester, but the rest of us are around (though I’m away for a couple of days at the moment).

  • RebDovid

    It’s possible that people whose attention and sympathetic concern are aroused by terrorism in Paris, but less so, or not at all, by terrorism in Beirut are motivated by racism. It’s likewise possible that people who are active in seeking to sanction Israel, and Israelis, but who are less involved, or not involved at all, in campaigns regarding other occupations or world problems, are motivated by antisemitism.

    But neither possibility is necessarily so. Previous writers have adduced ample, non-racist reasons for people responding more to Paris than to Beirut. Indeed, we might compare the attention paid in the U.S. to the Boston Marathon bombing to that being paid by Americans to Paris. It’s not necessarily anti-French of Americans to be more concerned about terrorism at home than terrorism abroad, even though the death and damage in Paris is vastly greater than that in Boston.

    In sum, let’s not start with the presumption that people generally are guilty of racist or other malevolent motivations.

    • sonamib

      I think you’re misunderstanding the OP if you think she’s accusing us of having individual malevolent intentions. Remember, racism is not just personal hatred of different-hued people, it’s a systemic oppression. The OP is a critique of our collective reaction, which can certainly be affected by systemic biases. I mean, there are lots of Americans* of Lebanese heritage, why aren’t we hearing more about their personal reactions to the Beirut bombings?

      *Or insert any Western country here, I don’t mean to single out the US as I’m not USian myself.

      • Ronan

        Im a little torn on this. I dont think the term racism is useful in this (or, admittedly, many) contexts. If it is an innate human bias to have emotional attachments to in-groups and those familiar to us, then this is true in all circumstances, so how is it ‘racist’? For example, is it racist for a Nigerian to care more about domestic/regional events than those far away? I dont see what the word ‘racist’ does here except obscure. So I agree with a lot of the objections above.
        However .. I think some of the rhteoric against this is a bit of a cop out. We’re all educated, thoughtful people. The fact that we spend time here, discussing politics, show we are more aware of these issues than most. We understand the way biases work. So why should *we* not try and work against them ? If the post is actually a call to be more aware, then I think it’s unobjectionable (though it could have done without the use of the term racist)

        edit: to be fair, the term ‘racist’ actually wasnt used in this context in the OP. On re reading, I think you (sonamib )are more right than wrong

        • sonamib

          Yes, I re-read the OP and it doesn’t actually include the word racist. The relevant paragraph is :

          In this context, “Je suis Paris” can be deeply problematic, an emblem of racial difference, an invocation of the idea that certain lives, and certain cultures, are more precious than others.

          That’s true enough, and I don’t get why people get so worked up over it.

          • alex284

            “how dare you call me racist!” is a strange response to a post that doesn’t specifically call anyone racist. Some people doth protest too much.

  • Lee Rudolph

    Charles P. Pierce offers his mea sorta kinda culpa:

    On Monday, I caught a little heat for saying that not all the resistance to bringing in Syrian refugees on the part of various governors was based in xenophobia or religious bigotry. I suggested Charlie Baker and Maggie Hassan as two governors who could be reasoned with in this regard, and probably argued out of their positions. (A fella can hope.) Well, Francois Hollande has done his best to do that, at least by example.


    (I am, by the way, impressed that WordPress’s spell checker accepts both “sorta” and “kinda”. I had no idea it knew Latin.)

    • wjts

      Maybe it just has an encyclopedic knowledge of Doctor Who episode titles?

  • shah8

    /me sips Tropicana Farmstand Pomegranate-Blueberry (excellent slow drink!)

    /me reads thread again…

    If I may, might I suggest we focus a bit more on what solidarity means as it relates to the OP?

    If I were to act in solidarity with someone, isn’t that meaning of that mostly related to the fact that I’ll cover a shift, loan some money, defend the reputation, etc, etc?

    If the US and it’s people were to be in solidarity with the people of Paris and France, does that not mean that we approve of the air strikes PM Hollande has undertaken, and approve the US helping France in carrying out French wishes?

    I could suggest that we don’t do Je suis Beirut mostly because we’re not prepared to value Lebanese life or safety. Commiseration about the loss of life, yes. Actively value so as to do anything about it? Like, say, tell the Israelis not to bomb civilian South Beirut again in new conflict with Hezbollah?

  • Joseph Slater

    “Je suis Paris” might mean that I am not—nor do I wish to see—anything that does not derive directly from a narrowly-defined canon of Western civilization.

    In all the instances I have seen “Je Suis Paris” invoked — which, I admit, is obviously not every instance — I’m pretty confident it did not mean anything like that.

  • Joseph Slater

    JeSuisChien I hope is OK.

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