It was with a heavy heart that I learned this morning of the news in Paris. It is always difficult to hear news like this. My thoughts are with the people and families of Paris as they work to rebuild. The shop windows and streets can be fixed easily enough, but it will take much longer for their hearts and minds to mend. I am reminded of the fear and sadness we all felt after the 9/11 attacks here on American soil; a pain I am heartbroken the French people must also endure. Coming less than a year after the Charlie Hedbo shooting, I am sure emotions and tensions are running high.
For those of us to whom violence is irrational, the attacks in Paris seem senseless and confusing. In such a state of bewilderment, it is only natural to hastily find something to blame. When mass shootings occur on our home turf, we turn to video games, high fructose corn syrup, and guns. When two planes were hijacked and crashed into the twin towers in 2001, we blamed Muslims and airport security. As creatures of reason, we inevitably wish to know the underlying causes of violent acts, and so we turn to rationalizing and attacking symbols, ideas, and “isms.”
The attacks on Paris, too, have inevitably fostered debates centered around Islam, extremism, and terror. Many have been quick to blame Muslims as if this single act defines them as a whole. Others have blamed the Syrian refugee route and inadequacies on the part of the EU to attempt to contain the influx of migrants. As an American I do not pretend to understand the political tensions that exist in the EU, and I will not speak on it here.
I wish to share this video of anti-Islamist protests taken by twitter user @jojo_lerigolo in the wake of yesterday’s violence. I do not blame the people of Paris for this response. Everyone deals with acts of violence in their own way. I would encourage, however, that we shy away from blame and reactionary responses in the face of crises like this. By disconnecting ourselves from the groups we deem responsible for these attacks, we only encourage more would-be allies to defect to the side of extremism. Violence is always met by violence. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. And so it goes.
As we all begin the process of mending psychologically from this attack, I ask that all of you look towards your friends and neighbors. Have a conversation with a stranger. Let your friends unload their feelings. Don’t allow anyone to feel disconnected or alone today as they come to terms with the senseless violence that still surrounds us. It is your responsibility as a human being to reach out to others, lifting their spirits and helping them heal. Listen to understand, with an open mind and a gentle heart. Don’t allow anyone to feel disconnected.
I ask that you ignore the fear-mongering of the media and political figureheads that will no doubt assail you from all sides as we learn more about this tragedy. Ignore words like “bloodbath” and “terrorism.” Ignore their attempts to conflate Islam with extremism. As difficult as it may be, whatever you do, don’t dehumanize the extremists that orchestrated these attacks. Understand that just like you and me, they are human. Try to understand their motives. Just like those protesting in the streets, they act out of fears and biases that all of us as humans share. Realize that your government and media are not doing you – or humanity – any favors by demonizing these extremists. What they did is horrible, to be sure, but they are human; just like you they have desires and fears. We can stop tragedies like this, and we can avoid more senseless retaliatory violence. And that starts with a recognition that we are all human. We are all in this together. Don’t be fooled by the in-group/out-group thinking that inevitably rules the day when tragedy strikes. The victims and perpetrators alike were our brothers and sisters, and I pain for every one of them.
So again, I implore you. Reach out to someone today. Lend a helping hand, or a shoulder to cry on. Let someone vent their feelings, and listen without judgment or contempt. Reach out to those who have family and friends in France, Beirut, or Syria. Reach out to Muslims in your community who will no doubt face ridicule, hatred, and disconnection in the wake of this tragedy. Reach out to your family and friends who are processing this violence, same as you. And most importantly, reach out yourself for help if you need it.
Stand with Paris. Stand with Muslims. Stand with humanity.