This post was originally written and published on Medium on November 22nd 2015 – one week after the Paris Terrorist Attacks.
I told myself not to stay up all night thinking, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the word; ‘terrified’ and what it actually means. I guess it’s just a word — and that it is sometimes used in the same vast abundance as the word; ‘stress’. “I’m stressed”, “Oh My God, I’m so stressed out”, how many times have you heard your friend or co-worker say this, or even said it yourself?
Think about it…we use it without thinking about the real meaning. I mean…you’ll know when you’re stressed, elevated heartbeat, you’ve completely ruined your diet, haven’t exercised in ages, no sex-drive, no sleep, emotional outbursts and what seems to be an attack of early Alzheimers…but there’s a difference between short-term stressful situations and serious long-term stress. Often, when we say we’re stressed, we’re not really stressed…so does that mean when we say we’re terrified, we’re not really terrified – but just using it to emphasize an emotional state of mind?
I don’t know.
Having recently experienced 11/13 in Paris, I started reading a lot about terror and terrorism. I have never previously given the word ‘terrorism’ much thought, besides a term used an awful lot in ‘Homeland’ — ironically, one of my favorite shows, not because of the thematic plot, but because of Carrie, anyways…my point is, I’ve learned that ‘terrorism’ is an act of violence used to incite fear into people.
Wikipedia says: “In its broadest sense, terrorism is any act designed to cause terror. In a narrower sense, terrorism can be understood to feature a political objective. The word terrorism is politically loaded and emotionally charged.”
“Politically loaded and emotionally charged.”
I knew that it meant an ‘act of violence’ but I never thought of the fact that it is combined with the word; ‘terrified’ and that its main purpose is to terrify us. Maybe it’s just me and because I’m Danish and not a native English speaker, but I think I get it now….mainly because of two things:
- Innocent people, Friday night, drinking wine, having a good time = Joy of life.
- Three words: I-am-terrified.
So the reason why these killers handpicked random places in Paris, filled with locals, having a good time, on a random Friday night and not ‘Le Tour Eiffel’ or ‘Louvre’ on a bright day packed with people, was because they wanted to scare us? Us the people who were there, you and I, him and her – and their friends. Nine people from my friend’s workplace died. Nine people…think about. Nine people from the same company who didn’t show up to work on Monday morning. This past Monday, one week ago – today!
I remember my Airbnb host in Paris, Sarah coming home to “our” home in ‘Place de la République’ on Sunday night, last week, we sat by the kitchen table, drank herbal tea and talked. She kept apologizing for her ‘bad English’ and I just kept thinking, God, I wish I could have her accent. She said to me:
“Everybody knows somebody who is dead…”
I don’t know…those words just kinda stuck with me…or actually not her words, but her face. And even worse — the tiny flash of life in her eyes when she said: “Oh and today they just announced the…what do you call it…bombs? In Sy-ri-a.”
She seemed relieved. I was just terrified.
Remember the Wikipedia definition: “Politically loaded and emotionally charged?”
So our response, when we become victims of a terrorist act of violence I guess, is a reversed response: “Emotionally loaded and politically charged — just like Sarah’s.
And I don’t condemn Sarah, on the contrary, but I find it hard to understand…just like I find it hard to understand when world leaders like Obama or Hollande speak to the public after a terrorist attack and tell us: “STOP giving in to terrorism” they are telling us to stop being terrified…or they are telling us to start acting like we are not afraid?
I don’t know, I feel like they are telling us how to act and what to feel. I trulybelieve that Sarah wanted Hollande to drop bombs in Syria two days after the attack on her friends and I do believe that she wanted some kind of consolation or some sort of emotionally loaded consolation with a political charged act to prove that she is not afraid (like she was told to feel and act) and, of course, also to revenge and condole her friends — the victims. I would probably feel the same way. I would definitely feel this way.
But I also know that feelings eventually pass — and that acting on your feelings when in a bad state of mind is rarely a good idea. I am convinced that Sarah doesn’t really want to drop bombs in Syria…to ruin more innocent lives? I mean, if we condemn terrorists for destroying our lives, for wanting to make us change our patterns of behavior, how do we justify consciously killing more innocent civilians to prove that our way of life is stronger? At the cost of what?
I don’t know what to think anymore.
The only thing I know, is that these people will die for their ideology and that is a scary thing. One of the reasons why France was chosen as a target, supposedly, was because Hollande had decided to interfere in Syria earlier this year, I don’t know when or how, but supposedly that’s what the killers at the Bataclán Concert Hall were saying while they were taking people hostage and killing them one by one — what seems to me like a very politically loaded and emotionally charged act of violence, terrifying a lot of people.
I don’t believe that we should give in to prejudice and discrimination, but I have seen and heard people stand together and sing: “We are not afraid” — “we are not afraid”, when I have also seen the fear in their eyes.
My biggest fear right now is not the fear of being terrorised or giving up my joy of life, it is the fact that if you’re willing to die, you can kill a lot of people.
I am not relieved, I am terrified.