Uncertain Times


A photo taken by Virginia Jones of the Palais Royal at night after the Paris attacks.

A few thoughts on the terrorism hysteria.    

By Joey Kennedy

Happy New Year.

We do start 2016 in uncertain times. As of this writing, the end of 2015 was punctuated with terrorist events all over the world. Lebanon. Paris. Mali. Colorado. California. There may have been more as of this writing. Throw in a U.S. presidential campaign where Republican candidates are playing on the fear terrorism incites, and you have a volatile mix for this continuing into 2016.

Still, when have we not lived in uncertain times? We’re a nation, and a world, that has always been filled with violence. We fought a long, bloody civil war in the 1860s. The Ku Klux Klan terrorized African-Americans and others throughout most of the 20th century. The 1960s were filled with assassinations and unrest, mostly due to the Vietnam War. Yes, we fought, and are fighting, multiple wars on multiple fronts around the world. And we hear daily about individual violence, thousands dying each year because of gun violence. Birmingham has among the highest rates of murder in the country.

Uncertain times, friends, are the norm, not the exception.

Perhaps the most notable recent terror attack, or at least the one that got the most media coverage, was that in Paris on Nov. 13. Birmingham photographer and retired schoolteacher Virginia Kelser Jones had just arrived in Paris when terrorists attacked several venues, killing 130 people and injuring hundreds of others. This was Jones’s 12th visit to Paris, a city she loves and where she takes photographs of the city for her photo blog, Paris Through My Lens (paristhroughmylens.com). Her photography is moving and instructive, especially in the wake of her most recent trip. Of course, following the attacks, tension was high.

Jones first heard about the attacks as she and friends were in a little pizza place, not far from the apartment where they were staying. She noticed two of her French friends on their cell phones, speaking softly to their husbands. They told her: “There’s been an incident tonight, and you need to be very careful. Tonight you don’t need to walk. You need to take a cab.” Jones and her companions walked anyway, but when they got to the apartment, they were receiving texts and emails from friends and family back in the States. “We were flabbergasted,” Jones says. They soon realized how big the attack was.

That Sunday, though, Jones said every café was full. Parisians weren’t going to fold to fear. While the museums and parks were closed the whole weekend, it had more to do with a three-day mourning period, Jones said, than with a fear reaction.

There was a scary moment on that Sunday, Jones said. She was taking photos of a particular café, full of patrons, when she noticed a couple of girls walk past her quickly, like they were trying to catch up with somebody. Then Jones noticed people running from the café. She heard glass crashing. Jones and her group ran to a nearby apartment with heavy doors. An apartment resident invited them into his apartment until whatever happened was sorted out. “We never heard sirens,” Jones says, “never heard shots. Never saw any police, no ambulances. Nobody seemed alarmed,” after the initial scare.

A false alarm. After about 45 minutes, Jones and her party left the apartment. They were treated kindly by the family who lived there. “When we got ready to leave, you would have thought we were next of kin.” Jones later learned that somebody may have set off fireworks and caused a brief panic. Bad timing for fireworks.

Jones did not visit any of the scenes of the Nov. 13 terror attacks. “I felt like that was the place for Parisians to go,” she says. “I didn’t feel like tourists should go there.” The rest of her stay in Paris was uneventful, as far as terror panic was concerned. “You just have to live your life,” Jones says. “You can’t let it control you.” And in the aftermath of those horrible terror attacks, that’s exactly what Parisians did. “The French, it’s such a different atmosphere than it would have been here,” Jones says. “There weren’t any (political) hysterics, nobody getting up hollering.”

Contrast that to the United States, and in Alabama, where politicians called for a ban on Syrian refugees in their states. “One of the worst parts was reading from Paris what (U.S.) politicians were grandstanding and twisting to appeal to their base,” Jones says. “That was one reason I didn’t want to come home. I feel safer in Paris than I do in the United States.”

And then consider the hysterics by politicians here after the terror against the Planned Parenthood office in Colorado. Consider the hysterics after the terror attack by two Muslims in San Bernardino, Calif. We’ve gotten so hysterical that Donald Trump, the leader for the Republican nomination for president, has proposed to keep Muslims from even entering the United States. Sadly, Trump’s (and our own Gov. Robert Bentley’s) xenophobia and, yes, racism, appeal to their supporters.

In Paris, life goes on. Here, life goes crazy.

We must not live in fear. We must live in freedom. And freedom comes with a cost. It does make us more vulnerable to terror attacks, by both foreign terrorists and our own, homegrown terrorists, of which there are more than a few. And as we succumb to the fear, and give up our freedom and what we’re supposed to stand for, the terrorists win.

We cannot let them. We won’t.

One Response to “Uncertain Times”

  1. Karen Graham says:

    Lovely article. I know Virginia from her blog and from FB and even though we haven’t met, we both love Paris, agree on much poliitically, and have mutual friends. I followed her trip to Paris on FB and enjoy that you have written about her and the strength and character of the French following the attacks.
    Thank you.

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