Sunday, November 22, 2015

Normandy, Freedom and Terrorists

Omaha Beach in Normandy
It has been 10 days since the terrorist attacks in Paris, and the reaction in France has been similar to the reaction in the United States after the 9-11 attacks: fear, shock, anger, patriotism and talk of draconian responses. People have put candles in their windows, military enlistments are up, and the newspapers are full of "news" relating to the attacks. We have seen more military personnel in public places and we have even seen a police roadblock. Some of the politicians in the U.S. and France seem to want to use these attacks as an excuse to curtail liberty and freedom that have long been the hallmark of both nations. In the ten days since the attacks we traveled to Normandy and I've attended my evening French classes, which are mostly made up of Muslim immigrants and both of these experiences have affected my response to the attacks. 

The trip to Normandy reminded me that 54,000 young men sacrificed their lives to safeguard our liberty and freedom during the battles to establish a beachhead in France and defeat Nazi Germany. Including injuries,  there were 425,00 casualties during the Battle of Normandy. After seeing the battle scarred bunkers, and the fields of graves, it seems inconceivable to me that politicians would allow a handful of terrorist to cause us to give up fundamental rights that hundreds of thousands of young men fought for on the beaches and fields of Normandy.

German guns along the coast of Normandy
My French classes, which are filled with immigrants from many different nations, but mostly poor refugees from Muslim countries in Africa and the Middle East, have given me an appreciation for plight of the typical Muslim in France. When we came to France I was not expecting to be meeting refugees from Syria, Somalia, Libya, Iraq and many other war-torn countries, but it has made the experience of being in France much richer and more interesting than I anticipated. Most of the Muslims I have met seem to be trying to build a new life in a country that provides them with opportunities not available in their home country. 

We think of the United States as a melting pot of different nationalities, but I did not realize that modern France is a modern melting pot. I wish that the politicians proposing to suspend civil liberties and "crack down" on immigration would spend more time talking about the advantages of accepting immigrants from many different cultures. 

I should confess, however, that the thought has crossed my mind that some of my classmates could be terrorists. I don't really have any evidence to support these suspicions, but I suspect that my ignorance of their experiences and culture is a fertile ground to breed fear and suspicion. The large number of refugees is a little scary. My ability to communicate with my classmates is limited by our mutual inability to speak French (they don't speak English and I do not speak their native languages). To the extent that I have been able to learn their stories, their stories are inspiring, but the large number of refugees is a little scary. 

After ten days to reflect on the terrorist attacks in Paris, I am resolved to get to know the Muslim immigrants in my classes and learn their stories. I am also committed to do everything I can do to speak out against misguided attempts to use the terrorist attacks to restrict our liberties and freedom. Most importantly, I agree with the sentiment expressed in Paris that we should not be afraid.  We should not live in fear of terrorists and we should not allow our leaders to use fear to justify repressive policies that are contrary to ideals that lead to the founding of republics in France and the United States.

Demonstrations in Paris after the November attacks

In conclusion, I want to share two quotes.  First, an excerpt from the New York Times (which was brought to my attention by a French businessman):
France embodies everything religious zealots everywhere hate: enjoyment of life here on earth in a myriad little ways: a fragrant cup of coffee and buttery croissant in the morning, beautiful women in short dresses smiling freely on the street, the smell of warm bread, a bottle of wine shared with friends, a dab of perfume, children playing in the Luxembourg Gardens, the right not to believe in any god, not to worry about calories, to flirt and smoke and enjoy sex outside of marriage, to take vacations, to read any book you want, to go to school for free, to play, to laugh, to argue, to make fun of prelates and politicians alike, to leave worrying about the afterlife to the dead.
No country does life on earth better than the French.
Paris, we love you. We cry for you. You are mourning tonight, and we with you. We know you will laugh again, and sing again, and make love, and heal, because loving life is your essence. The forces of darkness will ebb. They will lose. They always do.
Finally, a Ben Franklin quote (which Rebecca Wallace reminded me about in a comment below, but I felt needed a more prominent spot in the blog):
”People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.”


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  2. Brilliantly stated! This reminds me of a Benjamin Franklin quote (representative of the 13 colonies to France): ”People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.” - Rebecca Wallace

  3. Great great exert. Thanks for sharing. ..