November 17, 2015
Dear Hotchkiss Community,
Elizabeth and I are grateful to so many of you who have checked in with us over the weekend to make sure we are safe following the attacks that took place here on Friday night. We are fine, and life here is returning to normal, albeit a new normal.
We frequent the neighborhoods — the 10th and 11th arrondissements — where many of the attacks took place. Le Stade de France is north of the city and familiar to many in Paris and France. The 10th and 11th are lively places with young, diverse populations and great ethnic restaurants, bars, and theaters. Those who perpetrated the attacks knew they would find a lot of people out and about on Friday night in the areas they targeted. They knew they would find people enjoying themselves, at dinner with friends, at a concert, or at a soccer/football game.
France has been on high alert since well before the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in January, and we have become accustomed to seeing armed military personnel patrolling the airports, the Gare du Nord, and the big metro stations. But getting used to seeing the military in busy public places does not prepare one to watch acts of terror play out in a very familiar setting. It was shocking and surreal.
Paris is in mourning. One could hear the peal of church bells near and far as the country observed a minute of silence yesterday at noon. One had the sense of a whole nation stopping and being silent, out of respect and sadness. This collective sense of grief is no doubt familiar for those in Beirut following last Thursday’s violence there or in Boston following the marathon bombings in 2013.
What terrorists want is to sow fear in a society, and acts of terror do create fear, but only for a while. There was a lot of fear in Paris on Friday night, but the essential pattern of civilized life has not been disrupted — it endures.
As I reflect on all of this, I ask what can we at Hotchkiss do to respond meaningfully and productively to terrorism?
My answer is to do what we do best: to educate and to continue learning. Let’s learn the history that has shaped the modern Middle East, including more recent history in Iraq and Syria. Let’s learn more about the current refugee crisis in Europe and the challenges of assimilating new immigrants and the risks of failing to do so.
Let’s learn about the Islamic faith in its diverse forms, as well as the extraordinarily diverse cultural and racial backgrounds of Muslims, be they worshipping in the Great Mosque of Djenne in central Mali or the Istiqlal Mosque in Indonesia, home to the largest Muslim population in the world. Let’s read and discuss the work of Karen Armstrong and Bernard Lewis. Let’s read and discuss Louise Richardson’s book, What Terrorists Want. Let’s broaden our sources of news in an effort to challenge our own perspectives. Let’s resist simplistic analysis — including that frequently seen in mass media — or ready conclusions to complex phenomena, while we seek to understand underlying causes and cultural factors. Let’s resist the crude, denigrating shorthand of stereotyping. In short, let’s live as Hotchkiss people have lived for generations: let’s continue the lifelong process of educating ourselves and of learning together in community, a community that responds to difference not with contempt, but with a compassionate curiosity.
Incoming Head of School