Attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad Spark Discussion at Smith

Michelle S. Lee ’16

On Nov. 13, shootings and bombings that took the lives of 120 and injured 180 shook the city of Paris. The attack was one in a series of terrorist attacks reported in the last week. ISIS, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, also took responsibility for a suicide bombing in Beirut, which left more than 200 wounded and at least 40 dead, and is suspected of orchestrating another suicide bombing that left at least 20 dead and 40 wounded in Baghdad.

All JYA Paris students, as well as Smith students visiting Paris at the time, were reported to be safe. A campus-wide email from Dean of the College Donna Lisker confirmed the safety of the students and expressed condolences by the school.

“Our relief for our own community is tempered by grief for the terrible loss of life in Paris, and the fear it engenders there and throughout the globe,” Lisker wrote.

“The city was much more subdued this weekend than it was before the attacks,” said Vanessa Pius ’17, who was visiting Paris while studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. “People were out and about, but it was quiet. People are mourning, but they’re not letting their lives come to a complete halt. Paris has indeed been terrorized, but its people are strong.” Pius and her friend were about three miles away from the bombings at the time of the attack. “My own reactions evolved over the weekend, but now that I’m home in Denmark, I’m letting myself feel my grief and process this.”

Back on campus, Smith held a vigil in front of the Campus Center on Nov. 16 to mourn the loss of the victims of the Paris attack, during which students and faculty expressed their thoughts in the aftermath of the event. Professor Martine Gantrel-Ford, who will be directing the JYA Paris program next spring, spoke of the importance of continuing exchanges abroad.

“When the events unfolded Friday night, one friend of mine asked me if the tragedy in Paris would make me revisit my decision to direct the JYA Program,” Gantrel-Ford reflected. “Far from it! It is precisely in times like these that study abroad programs and exchanges matter the most so that the world can remain a diverse and open place.”

Students and faculty stood in solidarity with the city, and reflections ranged from discussion on the aftershock to conflict over mourning the loss of victims in attacks on other cities this past weekend.

“[The vigil] was beautifully put together. It is sad to think cities and people go through what Beirut, Paris and Baghdad has gone through,” said Najla AlSudairy ’17, who spoke at the vigil. “But I think [we], as Smithies, should truly hold these attacks equally as important without allowing the media and institutions to devalue Arabs or take away from one’s experience. One dead person is too many, no matter what.”

AlSudairy voiced a concern in line public criticism against unequal levels of media responses to events that have unfolded in Beirut and Baghdad. Students reacted immediately, posting on social media platforms to express opinions ranging from support for increased awareness of the disparity to counter-reactions to the criticisms.

“People have every right to mourn Paris and stand in solidarity with the victims. Criticism of the mainstream media coverage should not be understood as an objection to solidarity acts with Paris, but rather as an objection to the propaganda that degrades ‘brown’ lives and renders ‘white’ lives the threshold for solidarity,” said Maya Sleiman ’18, a student from Lebanon. “This is not a clash of civilizations/religions as the media portrays; this is a clash of economic interests that we are paying for. People need to draw parallels between their struggles and stand in solidarity which each other.”

Others disapproved of the discussion, citing inappropriate timing.

“While for most people outside Europe, this will likely pass within a few days when the media tires of covering it, for me, this tragedy has had a significant impact on me,” said Pius. “The conversations being had about the Western-skewed ways media covers tragedies like these are important, but it also feels very soon and disrespectful to attempt to have them so soon.”

Discussion also encompassed reactions taken by Smith administration – while acknowledging the college’s role in informing those on campus of the status of students who were in Paris at the time of the attack, some students noted the absence of support for those at Smith who may be affected by the bombings in Beirut and Baghdad and other major incidents.

“My main objection was that [Dean Lisker] mentioned that the International Students Office has reached out to exclusively French students for support and assistance without even mentioning Lebanese or Iraqi students who were also affected by terror attacks that hit their homelands less than 24 hours prior to the Paris attacks,” Sleiman said. “It made me feel invisible. I might excuse my fellow Smithies for not knowing about what happened in Beirut given the media coverage, but Dean Lisker is in an administrative position and should have been more considerate.”

“It is good that our school administration is reaching out to check on their students in Paris. I do feel, however, that the email could have addressed the attacks in other parts of the world that happened around the same time period,” said Mahrukh Khan ’17. “There was an earthquake in Japan and Mexico and bombings in Lebanon. Don’t we have Smith students from those countries? Do we have students studying abroad over there? How about them, how about their feelings and their voices?”

For Khan, who is also a cabinet member of Al-Iman, Smith’s Muslim student association, the issue is multi-dimensional. Responses to events in Paris have additionally triggered anti-Islamic behavior, a concern that has yet to be officially addressed at Smith.

“I feel like the administration should acknowledge the fact that the Paris attacks will result in increased Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment, as it inevitably will and has. They need to address the need for a safe campus for the Muslim students who may have to face a backlash,” she said.

On Nov. 16, Al-Iman issued a statement expressing condolences to the friends and family of victims of the attacks in all three cities and extending support to students affected.

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