Nov 17 2015

After the Paris Attacks

Professor Craig Calhoun, Director of London School of Economics

Professor Craig Calhoun, Director of London School of Economics

The 13 November attacks in Paris must trouble anyone who cares about peace, the security of ordinary people as they go about their lives, and the future of international cooperation – including higher education and intellectual life.

LSE grieves at both the personal and the global level.

We are saddened by the death of our recent alumnus Valentin Ribet.  A French lawyer who had completed his LLM at LSE last year, he was just at the start of his career. We will never know the range of wonderful contributions he might have made, in the practice of law or as a concerned citizen.


And we are saddened too that this latest set of events is part of a large-scale pattern of violence. This is directly at odds with what we do and what we value.

The violence stretches back decades but has intensified since the invasion of Iraq. It has a Middle Eastern focus but connects far-flung parts of the world, especially along the fault lines and paths of former empires: French and British, of course; Ottoman and Russian; Chinese and Arab. Today’s networks of illicit trade and political violence are ironically an aspect of the very globalization they disrupt.

LSE is also intrinsically part of global society. We bring together students from 155 countries. LSE works to understand the structure of global connections: markets, migrations, media, international relations, multinational organisations. We are attentive to conflict and violence but hope that our work supports international cooperation. We seek to bring research-based knowledge to bear on finding solutions to major public problems and encouraging innovation for a better society.

Some of this work is national. LSE contributes to public policy in the UK, seeking to improve the NHS, the educational system, the transport infrastructure, and economic growth in all the country’s regions. But Britain is intrinsically international. From its own multi-national constitution to its citizens from all over the world (and especially former colonies) Britain benefits from diversity and global connections. Its economy, its cultural creativity, and its security all depend on how we relate to the world not just what goes on inside our borders. Britain can decide whether to remain a member of the EU but it cannot decide to withdraw from the world.

So LSE also helps Britain deal more effectively with its global challenges and make more effective global contributions. London is one of the world’s great financial centres. It is also a centre of culture and with it tourism and a range of economic activity from art to advertising and indeed education itself. And remarkably, in a time of austerity the British government has maintained its support for economic growth and human wellbeing elsewhere, refusing to cut support for its Department for International Development.

And of course LSE contributes not only to Britain but also to the world. Our alumni shape policies on every continent – sometimes as ministers and heads of state, sometimes as business leaders, legislators, journalists, judges, and academics. Our research focuses on issues like climate change, inequality, financial risk, and public health that all call for global cooperation.

Violence challenges this work. It makes it harder for countries to cooperate in shared policies. Already we see the difficulties created by the failure of European countries to develop a shared response to an increased flow of refugees – itself directly the consequence of violence.

Violence also encourages insularity borne of anxiety as well as solidarity. In rightly responding to the terrible events in France, for example, much of the media have demonstrated that the West cares more about itself than its declarations of global values sometime imply. The equally terrible events last week in Beirut received no such attention.

In this context it is important that we remain alert to the personal and human dimensions of events like the Paris attacks that took the like of Valentin Ribet and so many others. Individuals and families suffer. And sensitivity to that suffering reminds us to see it in other settings as well, in distant communities where bombs fall, in the faces of refugees. Most of our work at the LSE is about the big picture, the causal factors, the systemic risks. But the human beings also matter.

Professor Craig Calhoun

Director, London School of Economics

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