How should we keep fear away?

Here is the script I used in speaking with the school in assembly today (with thanks to and acknowledgment of The Conversation)

The attacks in Paris on Friday last were the deadliest on French soil since 1945. Over 130 people have been killed; nearly 100 are in a critical condition. You may have family or friends there. I hope they are safe.

You may recall I spoke about terrorism in January when the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked, killing 12 – now it has happened again. President Hollande has declared a state of emergency. He announced a series of radical measures such as re-establishing border controls. Schools and universities have been closed as have popular tourist venues such as the Eifel tower. Overnight bombing raids took place on towns in Syria.

These events could have happened anywhere in the world and, sadly, will probably happen again. So how should we react?

Living in a climate of fear and paranoia has serious consequences. It means we become paralyzed and suspicious of everyone such as the young man carrying an unusual bag I sat opposite on the Tube in London yesterday. Politicians will call for reprisals and draconian measures in an attempt to be seen to be doing something – and I guess we expect them to so something on our behalf. So expect more police on the streets, more security screening in shops, concerts, train stations etc. These are the obvious measures that show action. Expect also more spying and surveillance of what we do – this is how the security services get vital information.

Let’s hope that our leaders do not fall into the trap that these terrorists have set – a war of civilizations. This would be playing right into their hands. A war of civilisations is the very thing IS and its ilk are trying to construct. They seek to enshrine divisions between an imagined us in the West, standing together for a loosely defined version of democracy, and them, attempting to appear to be the standard bearers of a long oppressed peoples in an area torn apart by years of war started by us.

Falling for this would offer IS exactly the false image of unity of the oppressed it wants. It would also be a dangerous simplification of who ‘we’ are – at the expense of anyone who acts or thinks differently.

Accepting such divisions will impact our own community, building walls between all those sharing the same space, be it a city or a country. It will be essential not to fall for seemingly reassuring but ultimately self-defeating strategies such as scapegoating – blaming this group or that. In the coming days it will be crucial that we avoid lapsing into fear. If we do, we will only summon more fear and paranoia, incur ever more stringent laws limiting liberties for all, and inflict more pain through discrimination and segregation on those already suffering from exclusion.

All these things will in turn provide further recruitment propaganda for extremist groups.

No matter how obvious it seems to many of us, it is worth repeating that it is not Muslims, immigrants or refugees who are responsible for the attacks, but handfuls of fanatics wanting us to take us down a terrible path of mistrust, exclusion and curtailment of basic freedoms.