The Bataclan attacks remind us of the fundamental problems affecting politics abroad and at home
I still remember the faces of my European friends, shrouded in smoke and sorrow in a packed studio apartment, as the news of the attacks flooded in. A state of emergency was declared in the days that followed. Public demonstrations are forbidden. Warrantless searches by police are permitted. Border soldiers are deployed to cities across France. Suddenly my Strasbourg commutes to school and work are marked by security checkpoints, troop transports and armed patrols. Heavy weaponry mixed with Christmas lights as a miasma of fear engulfed the country.
This Sunday is the one-year anniversary of the November Paris attacks at the Bataclan. The year since that terrible day has been marked by further attacks, political instability and fear. It wasn’t the first attack France had experienced in the recent past: 2015 saw both the Charlie Hebdo shootings and the thwarted Thalys train incident. The attacks at the Bataclan weren’t the last, either. A series of stochastic stabbings followed, briefly interrupted by the deadly Nice vehicle ramming this July. Following that incident, the state of emergency was extended and is still in effect today.
Some of my friends lost loved ones during those attacks at the Bataclan. One of my colleagues was even a survivor, scarred by the ordeal but still willing to carry on. Fear was in the air as much as holiday cheer, but the former did not fade with the passing of the seasons. People turned inward. Far-right political parties like the FN (National Front) gained momentum as fear pervaded. My Muslim friends (rightly) feared ostracization from their other French and European brethren. Before my eyes, some of my French friends turned against their Muslim peers and looked to close down their borders, ever-more skeptical of the European Project.
Fear has dominated the political zeitgeist this year. The rise of the alt-right is just one such consequence. The alt-right, broadly speaking, is composed of individuals who oppose immigration, globalism and political correctness. In the wake of attacks, trying migrations and economic stagnation, this conservative offshoot has provided an answer for some people’s fears. In Europe, alt-right politicians like Marine Le Pen of the FN, Frauke Petry of AfD (Alternative for Germany) and Nigel Farage of UKIP (UK Independence Party) are making gains — Brexit being one of the most recent and visible. The U.S. has not been immune to this culture of fear, as we are all so painfully aware after this election. The modern Republican party has its own burgeoning alt-right wing with Donald Trump having been its standard bearer.
Indeed, the alt-right’s pick has won the 2016 Presidential election. It may have come as an unwelcome surprise to those of us who find Trump’s rhetoric, his personal character and his policy proposals abhorrent. Furthermore, it may be easy, particularly for generally left-of-center Lewis & Clark students, to scoff and deride those who follow people like Trump. However, from first-hand experience I know how the appeal of a “law and order” strongman like Trump can be so intoxicating in times of fear. When the soldiers first came to Strasbourg after the Bataclan attacks, I was shocked. But the safety they brought, illusory or not, was profound. The costs of such security were high, however: civil liberties were abridged and discriminatory practices were given room to grow.
There are no easy answers to this fundamental problem of fear. It would be easy to say that all we have to fear is fear itself, but that is a mere platitude. Easier still would be to say that all we must do is hold hands and sing and all the scary things will go away. The best I have to offer is this: be mindful. We are fortunate enough to live in the relatively unremarkable Portland area, where many of us have little to fear and much to deride. One of the few ways to combat the demagogues that fear engenders is not to merely scorn and scold from our ivory tower. We must be mindful, we must be understanding and we must remember where that fear comes from in order to overcome it. The anniversary of the attacks at the Bataclan is but one moment to remember that. There will be more strife and tragedy in the future, and with that tragedy will empower Trump and those like him. I can only hope we will have the strength to face them.