Since covering my first conflict in Chechnya in 1999, I have been aware that violence never keeps to a given territory. Violence seeps like groundwater; it branches out and splits as much as it divides individuals into so many rival camps. Later, in Afghanistan, I saw women, children, civilians killed, often in front of my eyes, and the same in Iraq, and today in Syria. I then witnessed the rise of "kamikaze" suicide bombers against whom we struggle to find an adequate response, whoever we might be, wherever we might live, whatever our value system.
Since I began reporting on the wars of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, I have understood that what happens "far away" does and will have consequences here, in this illusion of power, this reality of luxury, comfort and modernity; this Western bubble we call home.
We closed our eyes and covered our ears. We sent French soldiers into conflicts without first debating it in public forums. We rushed our military into Afghanistan (not into Iraq) without any realistic political ideas for the aftermath. We changed our strategies with each new theater of operation. We let ourselves be influenced by "intellectuals" - frauds ready to do anything in order to maintain the egotistical that was guaranteed to capture the media’s interest, now and in the long run. Here, at home in France, we stuck our heads in the sand and refused to try and figure out what might be going on in the minds of so many people who bear enough hatred to want to kill others and themselves; people born and raised in France, who have looked for jobs in France—often in vain—and eventually dropped out of "normal" circles. Granted, knowing and facing these facts is difficult and painful.
Today, in the face of such barbaric events, we are finally facing ourselves, our society, the society we have built together. We look upon it with horror and see that it is also capable of producing terror and inhumanity.
Today, we wake up stupefied, horrified—how could we not be? Yet, with all due respect to those commentators whose extremist ideas are quick to bubble up in these days of hatred, we have not lost hope. Not that I believe that all can be solved with the magic wand of the war of all against all. NO: we should never surrender to such simplification.
If I tolerate those who call for such things on social media (and they are many), it is out of open-mindedness and awareness of differences. In times of murderous, terroristic barbarity, many are those who think they have the solutions, even as they have no idea how complex the world is—first and foremost because they refuse to acknowledge this complexity.
No one knows what should be done or said. Politicians will pontificate and instrumentalize the attacks, but in truth they do not know what to do. Neither do I. The suicide bombers are dead: once again, we will never know what they had in mind, what motivated them, how they got to that point, who helped them, who pushed them. Why they hate us and despise themselves so much. In the coming three days of mourning, at least, let us reflect on what we just lived through, what we avoided, what could still happen - with common sense, rather than hysteria.
Anne Nivat, a Warscapes Advisory Board member, is an award-winning war reporter and author. She covered the Chechen war for the French daily Libération and was based in Moscow for ten years until 2005. Nivat has written pieces for The New York Times, The Washington Post and the International Herald Tribune, and has appeared on NPR's Fresh Air, The Connection, and PBS's News Hour. She holds a doctorate in political science from Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, and was a Fulbright Fellow at the Davis Center for Russian Studies at Harvard University. For her first book, Chienne de Guerre: A Woman Reporter Behind the Lines of the War in Chechnya, she disguised herself as a Chechen woman and traveled to the war-torn region despite a Russian ban on journalists. Her books include The View from the Vysotka; The Wake of War; Encounters with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan; and The Fog of War. Nivat is based in Paris and travels extensively covering Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Translated from French into English by Gregory Pierrot. He is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Connecticut and co-editor of Boic Caiman magazine which is forthcoming in 2016.