Paris Attacks: What the Terrorists Never Anticipated

My neighbourhood in Paris was fairly far removed from the coordinated terror attacks of last night. In fact, had I not glanced down at an alert on my cell, I would have gone to bed without any idea of the terror unfolding across the city. Suicide bombers at the Stade de France, mass shootings at bars and restaurants, and a horrific hostage situation that resulted in over 100 dead. The number of wounded is staggering, and by all accounts it looks as though the number of dead will rise in the days to come.

I know I am lucky to be alive. Having two young children at home meansmy husband and I are rarely out on a Friday night anymore, and our kids were already tucked into bed when this happened. Still, the attack could have happened any day, at any time, anywhere.  The worst part of being lucky enough to not have been where the attacks took place is the knowledge that so many others weren't as lucky. While my children slept soundly in their beds and woke-up to greet my husband and me, safe and sound, there are children in Paris who woke up this morning to the news that their parents had been murdered overnight.

I have followed the tweets from those hoping to hear from missing friends and relatives, listened to accounts of the time it may take to identify all of the victims, and the concern that almost 100 of the wounded are considered to be in critical condition and may not make it.

The terrorists are happy. Statements have been released praising the attacks as a success. In one sense, they accomplished one of their goals. Thousands of people minding their own business on a Friday night in one of the world's most beautiful cities were victims of people with a hatred so strong they viewed mass murder as a viable way of expressing their beliefs.

The city was plunged into a type of chaos for a few hours. Panic and uncertainty were widespread, particularly as news spread that the attacks were coordinated, and the country was placed under a state of emergency. People were stranded as public transportation shut down. Many scrambled for a place to stay as Paris was placed under mandatory curfew, the first since the 1944. Borders were closed. A three day period of national mourning was announced. No one was certain how many suspects were still on the loose, or if additional attacks were planned.

Aside from killing as many innocent people as possible, the broader goal of any terrorist attack is to instill fear in the greater public. To make people question the safety of the place in which they live. To question the political decision of their government to mobilize against these groups, for fear of reprisals. To start infighting between those who choose to blame a single, homogenized group for the violence and those who choose to view the issue as more complex than simple explanations.

In that respect, they failed.

As they always do.

What terrorists never anticipate is the outpouring of love that makes people stronger in the wake of violence. Yes, there have been some awful comments on social media and I fear that anti-refugee sentiment will grow among some sectors of society. To pretend that differences of opinion exist would be disingenuous. But the truth is that these differences of opinion existed before the violence of Friday night. That's what democracy looks like. It's messy, and often contentious, and rarely results in consensus on any one issue. But those differences of opinion are able to be expressed in peaceful ways, without the threat of mass violence.

Instead of the spread of hatred the terrorists hoped for, there was an outpouring of love and support. I watched it unfold from my living room, as I navigated the news, social media, and communication with family and friends in Canada. In my personal circle, I received text messages from my family members, and had a mandatory Skype session with my seven year old niece who needed to see me to believe that everything was fine.

My Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts exploded with messages from family, friends, and acquaintances (including former students and friends from high school who I haven't seen in roughly 20 years). Emails popped up urging me to confirm the safety of myself and my family, some more panicked than others. I was reminded that love has no boundaries- when faced with tragedy, it doesn't matter how far you are or how often you talk, the underlying concern for those in your life stays the same.

The mobilization of love and support among strangers was more impressive still. The hashtag #PorteOuverte popped up on Twitter, where those of us with room to spare were connected with those who were stranded and needed a safe place to stay for the night.

It may sound like a simple act of kindness, but it was much more than that. Think about it- in the midst of a terror attack the likes of which France had never experienced, while gunmen were presumed to still be on the loose, people opened their homes to perfect strangers based on nothing more than a tweet indicating they needed a place to stay. The faith in humanity expressed in that simple act of trust says so much about the innate goodness of people everywhere.

This morning, lines snaked around the outside of hospitals with people waiting to donate blood to help victims. Marches of solidarity were organized on such large scales that the government had to ban them due to the ongoing threat of violence. The desire to show support for the victims outweighed the fear of further violence, and that strength and commitment to peace is why terror attacks never truly achieve their goals.

What terrorists never anticipate is the power of love, since they work only from a place of hatred. They underestimate the power of courage, since their acts are nothing more than cowardice. They are surprised by a show of strength in the midst of violence, because they misunderstand that living in peace does not equal weakness. They never anticipate the strength of solidarity, since their entire existence focuses on creating division.

Today the city of Paris is mourning. The atmosphere is one of subdued defiance. Subdued because the French would rather be marching in the streets than living under curfew. Defiant because they know that they will move forward, stronger than before, despite ongoing threats to their safety and security. Paris will heal in time, although the scars will remain, as they still do from the January terror attack.

I only hope that the wave of violence that has already hit many other cities around the world in the past month alone will subside, and that the love and support being shown to Paris extends to all people affected by senseless acts of terror. It's a small world, after all, and we're all in this together. Let's make sure that love really is stronger than hate.