Reflecting on tragedy

Attacks touch the campus community

The world watched as news emerged that 129 people from more than 25 countries were murdered by terrorists in Paris, France in a series of attacks that took place on Nov. 13 and 14.

According to news reports from Paris, seven attackers infiltrated six locations around the city. Some used guns and grenades as weapons, while others used homemade suicide vests.

Just two blocks from one of the sites, several Los Medanos College students were enjoying a weekend break from their studies abroad.

LMC Director of Forensics Kasey Gardner wrote in an email on the morning of Nov. 16 to school administration “none of them were injured” despite their proximity. He also noted “emotions are high for everyone, especially those students that were there.”

Gardner is in Barcelona, Spain as an instructor with the Contra Costa Community College District’s Study Abroad Program, in which five LMC students are enrolled.

“I was certainly pleased that Kasey provided the information,” said LMC President Bob Kratochvil.

He further noted he was “relieved to hear that [the] students are safe.”

Gardner said the group had observed a European minute of silence following the attacks.

He also noted the U.S. State Department has not changed the travel status of the students, or issued any advisories due to their location in Spain, which he says is not “particularly at risk” and “hasn’t been high profile in the Global War on Terror.”

Other members of the LMC community were also affected by the attacks, both directly and indirectly.

Kim Wentworth, LMC Electronic Resources Librarian also has ties to Paris in the form of friends living in the city. According to her, they have contacted her and assured her of their safety via social media.

Laurie Huffman, chair of the LMC World Languages Department, had family in Paris during the attacks.

Her cousin Nora was with her own sister and daughter during the attacks.

“She was there, ironically, for a prayer-to-peace mission,” said Huffman. “I was fortunate enough to be able to contact [my niece] … through social media.”

Shortly after the attacks, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (commonly referred to as ISIS) claimed responsibility for the mass terror event, which also took place in Saint-Denis, France.

ISIS claimed, in a video released online after the attacks, they were in retaliation to Paris being the capitol of “abomination and perversion.”

Other reasoning behind the attacks includes domestic and international policies set forth by French President François Hollande, which include France’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War.

The war has resulted in mass numbers of Syrian refugees fleeing the region into European countries, such as France.

In response to the atrocities in his country, Hollande has declared that France is in a state of war on the terror group.

“These actions confirm to us that we are at war. A war against terrorism, which itself has decided to bring war to us,” he said during a televised Nov. 18 press conference video addressed to the mayors of France, later posted online.

While the Paris attacks, along with recent attacks by ISIS in Beirut and in the Sinai Peninsula, are just a part of the terror game that ISIS is playing with world powers, the group has vowed to attack countries in the west in a six-month campaign, including 15 U.S. states, one of which is California.

Both the release of the target list and recent global terrorism have increased the opposition to Syrians seeking asylum stateside.

Critics of the acceptance of refugees in the United States, like U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, claim that the possibility of a false refugee entering the country and launching terror attacks is too high.

“Our nation has always been welcoming, but we cannot let terrorists take advantage of our compassion,” said Ryan in televised comments to reporters on Capital Hill. “This is a moment where it is better to be safe than to be sorry, so we think the prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not looking to infiltrate the refugee program.”

Huffman and her students had been studying and discussing the Syrian refugee migration prior to the Paris attacks. She stated, in an email, that the discussion has helped her students to understand the events that are happening around the globe and thinks a larger discussion is needed.

“We need a forum at LMC where students can discuss what is happening,” said Huffman. “It is extremely important that our students understand what is happening right now, politically and religiously.”

Since the United States has been threatened by the campaign ISIS is allegedly going to mount, talk as to whether or not the country should continue to allow Syrian refugees behind its borders has become heated.

“I’m scared!” said LMC student Precy Galang. “Especially if California is one of the targeted states.”

Galang is also worried that ISIS is using the Paris attacks to coerce the United States into a war.

She is not the only one on campus in fear of an ISIS attack in the future.

“They kill innocent people for no reason,” said Criminal Justice major Valerie Robles. “I was supposed to go [to Paris] this summer, but I don’t think I want to anymore … this is getting out of hand.”

“I feel it was a cowardly terrible act,” said LMC Campus Facilities worker Gustavo Gonzalez. “It not only affected the lives of people who died, but also affected the entire world.”

In response to the attacks and what the college may be doing to heighten security, Lt. Ryan Huddleston from District Police Services said simply, “we’re always mindful of what happens locally and across the world.”

Kratochvil discussed in an interview the preparedness of the college, saying LMC would fare OK in the face of a terror event.

“We’re prepared from a response side of the house. I don’t know if you can ever be prepared in advance,” he said. “We just need to stay the course. Continue to have [a] dialogue and respect one another.”

LMC student Frohar Osmani also stressed the importance of respect.

“Every race and religion has their good and their bad individuals and extremists,” she said. “No religion … is responsible or should be accused of hatred and killing of the innocent.”

“ISIS isn’t the definition of Islam,” said Arwa Alshubi, an LMC student who practices the Islamic faith. She noted that many people view ISIS as being Muslim, but in reality, they are different.

As for how the United States should get involved, opinions on campus vary.

“The American government is already working with a multi-international coalition to eliminate ISIS,” said Veterans Club President Justin Kerns. “It is going to take a combination of military action, nation building and diplomacy,” he said.

LMC Political Science Instructor Dave Zimny warns against immediate reflex action in the region.

“We don’t want to let [ISIS] goad us into doing something that feels good in the beginning but is really going to hurt us in the end,” he said.

That being said, he believes the “airstrikes will continue, and they’ll probably intensify.”

“I don’t think war is the answer,” said LMC Librarian Christine Kromer, although she does think something needs to happen.

Other options offered would be to wait to respond.

LMC Student Andrew Martos said waiting for a decision from the United Nations would be a prudent path to take.

Martos feels “super safe” stateside, as he believes the “U.S. is one of the highest ranked [armed forces] in the world.”

John Schall, from the LMC’s marketing department, also views the attacks from a different angle as he thinks terrorism has affected the romanticism that many people associate with Paris.

“I feel bad for Paris, it reminds us that [terrorism] can happen here, or anywhere, anytime, anyplace,” he said.

Sheldon Unaegbu stressed the importance of being aware of surroundings following the attacks.

“We should be … aware at every God-given moment and be hyper-vigilant wherever you go,” said the Biological Sciences major.

As events unfold around the world, investigations and raids continue in France, while airstrikes intensify in Syria and surrounding areas.

Only time will tell what impact the events in Paris and around the world will have on the global community.

In the meantime, “We … shouldn’t let this attack divide us,” said Kerns. “Our country is strong because we are diverse and we come together when tragedies like this occur.”

— Antonio Reeves, Beatriz Hernandez, Alexandra Riva, Crystal Damian, Sarah Gonzales, Nahel Ibrahim, Sha’Rena Moore, Jamari Snipes, Tyler Mortimore, Xsaxivette Robert and Damian Lewin contributed to this report.