Paris is arguably the most romantic city on the planet. With its impressionist art, royal architecture, relaxed daily life and world-class cuisine, the City of Light seduces you with its charm and beauty. I would know because I was just there 11 days ago. My wife and I were hired to document a wedding this month, while we, ourselves, celebrated 10 years of marriage a couple of weeks early — this Thanksgiving is our big 1-0. It’s easy for any artist to fantasize about Parisian life while photographing love under the Eiffel Tower and documenting intimacy on the streets of Montmartre.
That’s why grief and anger are obviously warranted after the unthinkable barbarism was perpetrated upon the Parisian people, Friday. Where we celebrated just one week prior, our family and friends were aching from a tragedy killing 129, and wounding three times that many. It took 12 hours before I heard from my cousin Fred and his family, and fortunately heard they were safe. What he wrote me in his first message showed the strength and resolve of what it means to call oneself a Parisian. “We have no words to explain,” he wrote me. “It’s just horrible. We must be stronger than this. Life must go on.”
My cousin is right. We must be strong, and we must go on. I felt President Barack Obama’s words of condolence delivered at the White House emphasized empathy and strength. And during this weekend’s Democratic debate, I was happy to hear former Secretary Hillary Clinton refuse to denounce Islam. Ironically, she cited former President George W. Bush’s comments in the days after 9/11 where he said that the United States is not at war with Islam. We cannot blame a faith, nor any religion. These attacks and suicide bombers who struck innocent life indiscriminately in one of our world’s greatest cities were carried out by ill men who sought glory in other’s suffering. That’s not the path to God or enlightenment in any religion or faith.
But the lesson for our leaders which should be underlined, bolded and italicized is recognizing and controlling one’s pain and frustration after receiving bad news. Hearing Republican presidential candidates and sitting governors — 27 as of this post — spout the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Syrian rhetoric of the past 48 hours saddens me. (Full disclosure is that one of the governors is Democratic New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan.) These state chief executives are declaring they will refuse Syrian refugees into their states despite the fact that this political posturing won’t prevent the settlements because it’s a federal issue. Let’s not forget, once welcomed to any one state, they could move freely like everyone else, a State Department spokesperson said.
It’s as if these governors are playing checkers when the rest of the world is playing chess. Writing off 4.3 million refugees trying to flee their civil war-torn home is malarky. After similar depraved acts of violence within our own borders, like one-person mass shootings in Oregon earlier this year and the Newtown school massacre in Connecticut, governors didn’t start refusing Oregon and Connecticut businesses and residents from entering their states. As the cliche goes, nobody should see one bad apple and declare the entire bunch bad. So why has one Syrian terrorist out of 4.3 million refugees caused such a vitriol reaction?
America is forgetting what we’re made of, and how we got here. I’m proud our President has the toughness to reject this overreaction and isolationist mantra. “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” Obama said while in Turkey for the G20 summit. “Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”
As a nation preaching for more family values, now is not the time to refuse to feed, clothe and house millions families in need and call ourselves Christians, or Jews or Muslims. I have faith in the American people. We’re not going to deport 12 million undocumented workers and destroy these families. We are not going to start searching every Mosque and follower of Mohammed. We are not going to build 10 foot walls along every inch of the border nor detain every Syrian who is trying to survive a brutal Middle East dictator. We’re not going to do these things because we are a nation of immigrants yearning for all to be free of injustice and war.
We have right to defend ourselves, but a real leader knows to focus on the real threat of ISIS/ISIL, and not a make-believe one. A real leader controls their emotions so they don’t overreact because they know they’re playing chess, not checkers. You can tell the real leaders by those who play the long-game versus those who slam the board when things don’t go their way. I #prayforparis, but I also pray Republican governors don’t compound the problem.
I want to do more after Paris. It’s not much, but below are several of 25 landscapes from our recent trip I’m offering for donations. I’m donating all the proceeds from any print sales to a French relief organization. More of the images can be found on my photography studio’s Blog. I hope you’ll consider donating: http://photographerphiladelphia.com/photojournalism/prayforparis/
Joseph Gidjunis serves as the Editor of . He is the former director of the Young Democrats of America’s Faith & Values Initiative. From 2001-2010, he served as a political, education and agricultural reporter at various weekly and daily newspapers throughout the Mid-Atlantic. In 2005, he founded JPG Photography, which has been named one of the best wedding and event photography studios in the world by multiple organizations, and voted the best in his hometown of Philadelphia in 2012 and 2014. He is a graduate of The George Washington University, and lives with his partner and wife, Rebecca, and their two dogs, Gus and Trudy.