“J’ai le coeur gros” I wrote on my FB wall yesterday, upon hearing about the acts of terrorism in Paris. I have a heavy heart. It’s startling how every fresh act of terrorism still has the ability to surprise, as if we think that the issues leading to terrorism have solved themselves on their own. But they haven’t, and they never will.
Instead, we need to effect change. Displays of solidarity – Prayers for Paris, We stand with you, Nous sommes toutes les Parisiens – are right, and fitting. But at some point, and hopefully it’s some point soon, we need to shift from reaction to action. The long-term closing of borders and erecting of boundary-long walls is not just absurd, it’s impossible. We chose involvement over isolationism when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and there’s no way the cork’s ever fitting back in the bottle.
Nuke ’em? Kill ’em? Short-term solutions that really solve nothing, because creating a generation of Western-hating people is what got us into this mess to begin with. Plus, that pesky thing called morality keeps us in check. Well, most of us, most of the time. No, folks. We can’t shoot ourselves out of this mess, and we can’t contain it on neat little reservations.
Bear with me on this train of thought, because your knee-jerk reaction is going to be to scream at me. For me, once I get past that initial reaction of shock and the overwhelming wish to turn away from the world because my heart just can’t take the unbearable pain that empathy and sympathy both cause in it, I’m left with tiny, niggling thoughts. And those tiny, niggling thoughts are this: These guys aren’t dumb. On the contrary, they’re pretty damn clever.
Think about it – where better to strike at Western civilization with a message of hate than at the City of Love? And I’ve studied the history of terrorism on planes (for a book I may or may not be writing) and nobody had ever thought to use the actual plane as the weapon before or to collapse the Towers strategically. Oh, it’s sick, it’s diabolical – I am ABSOLUTELY NOT denying that at all. But if terrorists are that clever, wouldn’t you think there are far better things they could be doing with their brains and their hands than thinking up ways to kill us and then devising new ways to accomplish that goal?
What if, instead of reactive policies, we had proactive policies? And I don’t mean hunting people down and killing them (as much as I do cheer a little when that happens). I mean, there’s got to be something better these people can do with their time, their ideas and their skills. I don’t believe that in their hearts they want to always be dying for their cause. That they will, is abundantly and painfully clear. But desire and need are not the same thing.
No, I think that – ideology aside for the moment – deep down all humans, or the vast majority of them, really want the same things: family, shelter, security.
Not enough of us pay attention to history or politics to know that we (meaning the U.S. and other countries of the “Western World”) have gotten ourselves into this mess by our actions and policies up to this point. Just as Dr. Frankenstein created his monster and gave it life, so have we. Or, at least our government has.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, because sometimes empathy is a curse, I can put myself in other people’s shoes. We’ve made it all too easy to hate us. And I don’t mean the individual “us” because of that belief I mentioned before that deep down we all want peace. But the hate for “America” as a beacon of hope and possibility. To ISIS and other terrorist groups, America is a fraud, a sham. We make promises that we don’t keep. We ally ourselves with groups that serve our needs at the time, and then drop them like hot potatoes when the need passes or our plans shift.
In thinking about what the correct response to these acts of terrorism is, I can’t help but think of a toddler who smacks their sibling, friend or parent. Why do they do it? We’re told it’s because they’re looking for attention or seeking a reaction. There’s no doubt that terrorists are looking for a reaction. Obviously, we can’t ignore them. But what if our reaction was nothing like they expected? What if we stopped meeting violence with violence?
There have got to be ways to address the underlying reasons that cause men and women to willingly don suicide vests and blow themselves up. If their lives here on earth are bad enough to make them wish to attain a Heaven that may or may not exist, or poor enough that they’re willing to die so that their family will receive financial aid, wouldn’t the obvious thing be to try to help them improve their lives? Perhaps programs that ameliorate their existence instead of ending it might be a better idea. Instead of disfranchisement, what about aid packages that lead to jobs and employment?
Last night I felt like I had lost Hope. It’s so hard to hold onto Hope when confronted with evil. After 9/11 I remember asking my mom how Doug and I could bring a child into a world that seemed so hopeless. She replied that I had been born as the country was embroiled in Vietnam and she had wondered the same thing. But, in the end, we have to believe that every human being has the potential to bring hope into this world; to make changes for the better. That our child may help find answers to the world’s problems. But that shouldn’t absolve each one of us from trying to find the answers ourselves, right? We shouldn’t just punt our problems down the road for our kids to have to deal with.
Hope, as Emily Dickinson famously wrote, is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul. Everybody needs hope in order to live. We can’t let Hate win, and we can’t let Hope become the canary in the coal mine.