I don’t know what to say.
The only thing I can think to say is that I am not afraid. We are not afraid.
You cannot and will not make us afraid of life by dealing in death. You can make us weep for our brothers and sisters, yes, and you can bring your despair and frustrations to our minds, but you will not make us afraid of life.
I – like most of you, I’m sure – spent this weekend in an absolute stupor of sadness and anger, and it does not stop in Paris.
I was shaken, of course, by the 129-and-increasing death count there after the coordinated terror attacks, but I already felt sickened by the bombings in Beirut that took place right before; I was already brought to my knees by the suicide bombing of a funeral in a Baghdad mosque.
I was sad, and I was angry.
I was angry, so very angry, that I didn’t hear hardly a peep about the tragedies in Beirut and Baghdad before the attacks on Paris (How do you say “cognitive dissonance” in French?).
The thing about that is I do not think it’s because we have less empathy for the lost lives of Middle Eastern people (that is the hope at least), I think it’s largely because in the Middle East we assume tragedy. And those are the conditions — the conditions of a land absolutely consumed by tragedy — where these terrorists form. And do we really think gathering up our own weapons of destruction and laying waste to such an already despairing land is the way to end terrorism?
No, while they claw at our hearts with violence, we cannot abandon our weapons of the mind, our weapons of culture, our weapons of inclusive prosperity. You cannot make us afraid to be humans, filled with empathie, amour, et fraternité.
No, we will not let those who know nothing else enslave us to violence. We are not afraid.
I was angry at the big issues, but I found I was furious with even the little things as well, like friends on social media coloring their faces with the colors of France. It just felt way too superficial – almost bordering on disrespectful, at times – because that was all that they were going to do. They planned no vigils, no marches, no donations, just a couple clicks, it seemed. But I’ve been thinking on it, and I’ve changed my mind.
What makes this hurt the worst, besides the bare tragedy of the victims, is the feeling of “I don’t know how to help this.”
We all feel it, this overwhelming sadness mixed with incredible frustration. Some people deal with this frustration of not knowing how to help with the tiny gesture of changing their social media pictures. Others (like I was) are annoyed by how superficial that gesture seems in the wake of such miserable violence. But both feelings come from our frustration, so I don’t know if we should be shaming others to donate money they might not have, or to march or to join the damn army.
At the same time, inspiration to do more than the superficial is important, but there might be better ways to inspire than disdain and demand. Maybe we who cringe at the colored profile pictures are the ones who need to do more in this regard.
If that tiny gesture makes someone feel a tiny bit better, why should we try to take that away?
Small gestures include prayer, by the way, and perhaps sometimes should be revered as such. We are all frustrated, and want to do more — but with things like these it can feel like small gestures are all we have left.
One of the only things I feel I do know after such tragedy is that we must be more understanding. We must not fuel anger toward one another right now, in this moment, so immediately after an event which might happen less often with a little more understanding and empathy in the world at large.
We are not afraid, and we cannot be afraid to challenge ourselves for more. How about the small gesture of challenging yourself to be quicker to forgive? How about the small gesture of challenging yourself to feel a twinge of hope in this stupor of anger and sadness?
They think they can corrupt us as they have been, bring their sickness to our brothers and sisters in Lebanon, in church funerals, in the City of Love, but we already know the cure. The cure for sickness is in small gestures of human capacity for kindness. The cure is in the responders (the “helpers“) and the mourners. The cure for fear is that we are not afraid.
These gestures do mean something, and the ultimate hope is that they lead to bigger gestures like finally taking in and sheltering Syrians who are trying to escape the same despair we now feel.
Like Muslim scholars fighting for the soul of Islam.
Like collective marches and chants of “Je suis Muslim.”
Or even like the unified efforts of humanity toward cooperative goals like the upcoming climate talks between nations to be held in, you guessed it, the city of Paris.
In the wake of such needless despair, we must challenge ourselves to do more, gestures big and small. So yes, change your pictures to show support, but let’s also try and break the chains of our own cognitive limitations. We prioritize family first, then community, then nation, before we ever feel the need to challenge ourselves to empathize with the outsider, with the Other, with even our enemy.
The very idea of having enemies feels like needless despair because I believe we have the capacity, and must challenge ourselves to have the capacity, to expand our compassion. That’s how we win against hate, not by blowing it up.
You cannot drop a drone strike on hate. Martin Luther King, Jr. already told us it is defeated by love! To fully embrace this you cannot be hindered by fear; and we are not afraid.