A little over two weeks have passed since three dark-clad men entered the popular Bataclan Theater in Paris’ 11th arrondissement and opened gunfire from AK-47 assault rifles after purported shouts of “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) rung through the 1,500-person concert venue. In the Bataclan, 89 lives were lost amid a coordinated attack that perpetrators executed on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as “Daesh” in Arabic. Elsewhere in the city, other Daesh agents conducted suicide bombings and synchronized shootings that upped the total death rate to 130, making this attack the deadliest in France since World War II and the deadliest in Western Europe since the 2004 Madrid train bombings.
I have spent seven years of my life living and traveling throughout the greater Middle East region, and I have also dedicated a substantial portion of my academic career to researching counternarratives to Daesh propaganda. Thus, I feel obliged to enumerate two lessons that the Paris catastrophe teaches.
First and foremost, mainstream news outlets are complex information machines oiled by a heavy Eurocentric bias. Take, for instance, the plane crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Press releases in the immediate aftermath of this event quickly highlighted the number of Western passengers on board, and failed to account for other ethnicities. This same blatant bias drove our news apparatus to disproportionately elevate coverage of Paris while neglecting terrorist attacks in other countries. Three days prior to the Paris attack, 43 died and 250 were wounded in a double suicide-bomb operation in a Shiite quarter of Beirut. The next day, a Daesh combatant blew himself up at a funeral in Baghdad, killing 18 and wounding 41. Perhaps most strikingly, al-Shabab slaughtered 147 innocent university students in Kenya in April of 2015.
The events that unfolded in Beirut, Baghdad and Kenya are just as heartbreaking as Paris. The modern Western press has, to a significant extent, failed its readership when its coverage unjustly amplifies the voices of Western Caucasians and teaches future generations that people of color in third-world countries do not matter. That’s a dangerous delusion to harbor. Yalies should keep in mind that the French-flag adorned profile pictures dotting Facebook are a distortion of reality.
To be sure, one should not understate the novelty of this situation. Paris deserves moderately more media attention because Daesh was able to infiltrate this safe and prosperous Western European capital. Put simply, it’s easier to bomb Beirut and Baghdad than it is to bomb Paris. This is not a cozy truth, but it’s the truth nonetheless. To see the reality of media coverage for what it is, we must both recognize the brazenness of this attack and also realize that the West frequently neglects the narratives of other, non-Western countries.
The second lesson that Paris teaches revolves around the public’s relationship to Islam. With Daesh riding a wave of recent and continuous success, including bombing a Russian airliner on Oct. 31 and developing a chemical weapons branch, it’s easy for us to automatically categorize Islam as an inherently violent religion. One must realize that Daesh’s radical utilization of Salafi jihadism is considered an anathema to almost every other Muslim in the world. One must also realize that at different points in history other religions provided fodder for barbaric movements on par with the ruthless tactics that Daesh exhibits. Islam has approximately 1.57 billion followers; almost all view it as a force for peace in the world. Granted, I am not naively beholden to Islam: As a transgender man who spends two months each year in Jordan, I am hyperaware of the religion’s troubling strands of conservatism. Despite the rampant discrimination that I face in the Middle East, I greatly admire and respect its cultural focus on collectivism.
We should also resist pigeonholing Islam as a violent religion for pragmatic reasons. There is a reason why Daesh is particularly attracted to attacking France: The terrorist organization highlighted Francois Hollande’s policy towards Islam as one of three motives for infiltrating Paris. Hollande has continued to uphold and celebrate laws that secularize the French state to the point of radicalism, banning the hijab, or Muslim head scarf, in public. This abnormal push for cultural uniformity, also termed “fundamental secularism,” goes against the diversity of human nature. In other words, enforced homogeneity will only exacerbate problems of fringe populations in a naturally heterogeneous society. Aggressive French secularism that disrespects religious variance encourages Islamophobia, which permeates France’s culture more so than other European countries. Attacks on Muslims in France are on the rise, and unfortunately have only increased since Daesh bloodied Paris’ romantic streets.
The war being waged against Daesh is, in the long term, almost exclusively psychological. Heeding this second lesson is one of the best ways one can prevent Islamophobia from inciting young Muslims to sympathize, or even join, the Daesh cause.
Isaac Amend is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at email@example.com .