A Dispatch Fom NYU Paris: Je Suis Paris. Je Suis le Monde.

My roots are in Karachi, Pakistan and Damascus, Syria. My current home is in Paris, France.

I have only visited Syria a few times. I have never lived there. In Karachi, violence has become so common that I have found myself to be, sadly, incredibly desensitized to it all. Perhaps it’s because I don’t know Karachi. I never lived there for very long. I travel only by car when I am there. The only places I go to are the homes of my family and friends, and the occasional restaurant or trip to the beach. Perhaps it’s because, and I thank God for this, I have never been directly affected by any of the horrible acts of violence acted out by individuals I hesitate to call human beings. I don’t see any of the violence. It almost has not been real.

This is why the attacks that took place on Friday, November 13th around the 10th and 11th arrondissements of Paris were so very real to me. It was by chance that on that evening, my friends and I decided to hang out somewhere in the 5th arrondissement, close to school, rather than somewhere on Oberkampf, where we usually spend our time. It was by chance that we didn’t end up in one of those restaurants or bars or music venues that were senselessly attacked. It was by chance that no one I know ended up there either. The presence of chance in my experience with all of this was in itself, to a degree, traumatic and profoundly terrifying. The more I think of the “what if," the more intense it becomes - and the more grateful I am to live in an apartment in the 15th, far away from any of the attacks. Though I have only been living here for a few months, I know Paris more than most other cities. It is my home. And the places that were attacked seemed so real.

This is the best explanation for why I have been so deeply invested in and have been posting about the situation in Paris. But, scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed, I have found posts regarding the recent attacks in Beirut. I found posts concerning the state of the world - the state of Syria, of Pakistan, of Lebanon, of Iraq, Afghanistan. To be quite honest, I did not know about the situation in Beirut. I did not know the extent of Syria’s refugee crisis. I did not know the extent of the ISIS presence and power in the world. I realized that I have been letting myself remain ignorant of the situation of both countries over the past few months, perhaps to avoid pain, or to avoid feeling the weight of the world’s suffering, or out of control of it all. And I felt so guilty. How dare I post about the Paris attacks when there is so much other stuff going on around the world? But I now realize, that it is because this is my current reality. I should not have to feel guilty for feeling like my first concern before anything else that day was the safety of my friends and community here in Paris. I should not have to feel guilty for spending the last few days feeling trapped in anxiety and sadness and afraid to leave home, even though I was not directly influenced physically present for the attacks. But experiencing this has also given me a small taste of what people living in war-torn countries are facing every single day of their lives. And it has made me wake up and realize how quiet and ignorant I have been keeping myself.

I understand the critics regarding selective sympathy, expressing their concern that no one talked about what happened in Beirut to the extent that they did in regards to Paris. And I totally agree with them. What happened to the people of Paris is the reality of thousands, if not millions, of individuals around the world every day. And we should all be aware of it all. We are before anything, citizens of the world.

I try my best to maintain an optimistic view of the world we live in. I refuse to seek a defeatist mindset. I refuse to believe that our world is falling apart. I need to stay positive so that the energy I put out in this world is positive too. That, in my opinion, is the best way we can heal ourselves and the world. Yes, it is incredibly sad that it had to happen to a first world country for the world to wake up. But at least we are all waking up.

Je suis Paris. Je suis le monde. I am Paris. I am the world.

I also just wanted to thank the NYU Paris community for remaining so strong throughout the progression of this past week’s events. On Monday November 16th, classes were cancelled and instead we had a program of events including yoga, singing, a movie, games, and open discussions with one another. It was incredibly powerful to my own healing process, and I am sure this applies to many of the other students who attended.