Monday, November 16, 2015

a plea to think

"Just remember...there are reasons"-- Spider Jerusalem

It was a difficult weekend. Like many, I spent a lot of time checking the news feeds for updates on the Paris shootings/bombings. I spent a whole lot of time thinking about meaning. Mostly, though, I spent a lot of time being scared.

I am not afraid, for the record, of the terrorists. This is not, for the record, naivety on my part but a conscious choice. They are scary, yes, but if you're actively afraid, you're helping them achieve their goals of terrorizing. And living in fear never ends well.

To tell the truth, I actually find many common reactions to Paris to be scarier than the terror. I saw way too many people who allowed the killing to in turn make them equally frightening and bloodthirsty. Almost as if to consciously prove the "violence begets violence" adage, cries of "wipe these people/religion off the face of the earth" flooded the internet. Even politicians got in the act, ranging from Senator Ted Cruz saying we had to be okay killing more civilians to former Governor Jeb Bush proposing only helping Christians. Personally, I have doubts that being more narrow-minded will solve much.

It is true that I did see a lot of good, including various French groups offering their help, their support, and their houses. And it was obvious from just a glance that the general tragedy certainly touched many people in social media, when before too long, French flags started showing up on Facebook.

It was at that point I started to notice something else scary. There was a ton of sympathy for France. Just a day before, though, Lebanon had been hit by similar terrorist attacks...yet they got no sympathetic outpourings. Where were the cries for Russia after an ISIS bomb took down a commercial airline flight? Where, for that matter, was the outrage over any other recent act of violence, no matter what group was at fault?

Why did we all latch onto the Paris tragedy? Is it because they're European? White? More like us than any of the previous victims of recent violence? Was it because we don't expect bloodshed in France like we do in other places? Why are we so hurt by unexpected violence yet immune and numb to violence where it is a fact of existence? And if this is the case, how screwed up are we as a species when we can actually not care about people in a specific place getting hurt because they're always getting hurt? These questions had special importance, because the bad behavior of only caring about the French victims? I first saw it in myself.

Maybe it's naivety on my part, but I feel that shortsightedness is not only a problem on the part of the terrorists. We're equally guilty. A seemingly senseless act occurred, so how did we react? Simplistically, with either a "kill 'em all"/blood-centric approach or existential "why do bad things happen" angst. Neither of these will solve anything.

There are reasons. And if we want to avoid tragedies, the first step has to be to find those reasons so we may address them. This requires analysis, though, and one of the prime rules of analysis (as I tell my students with some frequency) is that base assumptions such as "they must be insane/ignorant/stupid/bloodthirsty are pointless, as they tell us nothing.

We have to be willing to see other perspectives...even those of the people who are trying to kill us. To that end, I present two must-reads, What I Learned From Interviewing Imprisoned ISIS Fighters and Confessions of an ISIS. If you take nothing else from them, just realize that the situation has no simple truths. It would be easier to go by our stereotypes, but if anything is to ever change, we have to learn just how complex the world can get. It's hard knowledge, to be sure, but it's the only viable first step.

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