I must admit that the first feeling I had on reading about the ISIS attacks in Paris on November 13 was relief that there were no Canadians killed. Relief gave way, however, to the news that two Italians had died in the incident (Italy is my father’s homeland, and I’ve spent a great deal of time there too). The victims in question were Valeria Solesin, a student at Sorbonne University, and Sven Perugini, a computer programmer then working in Mallorca, Spain. While both were at the Bataclan theatre in Paris at the time, they did not appear to have known one another; they apparently had no connection other than their nationality and manner of their deaths.
When news of the attacks first broke, Sven Perugini’s mother went on a desperate search to find her son. It was painful to read her pleas on social media entreating anyone who knew of his fate to contact her. She then booked a flight to Paris, but when she arrived, she learned he was dead. Also moving was the reaction of Valeria Solesin’s family. At her funeral at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice – in which a Catholic priest, Jewish rabbi, and Muslim imam participated – her father thanked the three religious figures ‘who are here together in this square as a symbol of our common humanity.’
Other responses to the tragedy were not so noble. For example, Pastor Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, basically said the victims at the Bataclan deserved what they got because they were listening to ‘Satanic’ music: the Eagles of Death Metal band. I found his implied portrayal of the theatre-goers as would-be Satanists particularly ironic in that one picture of Sven Perugini his mother posted on Facebook shows him wearing a crucifix around his neck – although, as a Catholic, perhaps Perugini might not qualify as a ‘real Christian’ in Anderson’s eyes.
It’s easy to dismiss the rantings of a man like Anderson, whose other public statements have included advocating capital punishment for homosexuals and praying for US President Barack Obama’s death, as an attention-seeking ploy reminiscent of the late Pastor Fred ‘God hates fags’ Phelps. On the other hand, the reaction of some members of the (largely secular) Left to the events in Paris was hardly more heartening. For instance, one site by a self-described atheist calling herself ‘Chicana on the Edge’ (real name: Regina Rodríguez-Martin) said she had a ‘hard time whipping up a lot of sympathy for Paris.’ She chided the media for focusing on the recent events in France but ignoring the ‘suffering of people in Mexico, Kenya, Iraq, etc.’
Regina Rodríguez-Martin apparently leaves out the fact that not all the victims of the ISIS attacks in Paris were White. They would include, in some people’s eyes, Sven Perugini, whose mother is Italian but his father of African descent, which would make Perugini ‘Black’ as well according to the so-called One Drop Rule. ‘Chicana on the Edge’ has admitted to suffering from mental illness, so in a way, I’m tempted to dismiss her screeds as I would Steven Anderson’s. Nonetheless, as someone who, like her, opposed the war in Iraq and has qualms about the US’ involvement in military efforts in other nations, I cannot help but think there might be some truth in the description of pacifists and other allegedly ‘progressive’ individuals as ‘some of the most miserable people around’ – like certain members of the Democratic Underground forum who lamented the attention that murder victim Laci Peterson received when ‘thousands have died and are dying in Iraq.’
Now from France and Italy to North America, what do the events in Paris mean for Canada? There is some speculation that the attacks spurred the new Justin Trudeau government to postpone its plan to admit 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada from the end of 2015 to February 2016 in order to better screen them. Like most Canadians (according to a recent poll), I support bringing those fleeing the conflict in Syria to Canada. Nonetheless, I understand the trepidation of many Canadians about receiving large numbers of people from a region beset by terrorism and agree on the need for thorough screening. Some have compared the acceptance of Syrian refugees to Canada’s decision to provide asylum to the Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s. The comparison, though, is not entirely fitting: welcoming the Vietnamese carried almost no risk of admitting any potential terrorists, whereas at least one Islamic terrorist posed as a refugee when going from the Middle East to Europe. Therefore, in light of the tragedy in France, I believe a mixture of compassion and caution on Canada’s part is warranted.