So like everyone else, we woke up to the tragic events in Paris on Saturday. It hits pretty close to home for me, not only geographically with us living in Germany, but also because we were lucky enough to visit the city just this summer.
I also know that despite the soft spot in my heart for the City of Light, its just the latest and highest profile attack in a long string of ugliness from a group with hate in their hearts. So my thoughts are also with those suffering loss in Beirut and elsewhere.
Its also been interesting to watch different camps form on social media: one beating the drum of war, one mourning Paris, one chiding those mourning Paris for not morning for other places (including some misplaced anger involving a seven month old attack at an African college that, while tragic, doesn't quite fall into the category of current events), those raging against Islam, and those apologizing for all sorts of things.
I don't directly fall into any of those camps, largely because I think that the greater issues involved are far too nuanced to be accurately portrayed by what I call "Bumper Sticker Rage". I don't know how to fix what seems to be a rapidly eroding situation in so many places, but I do know this:
There needs to be a good, hard look at what leads to radicalization within any movement. I know that I would not be susceptible to a stranger coming up to me on the street, or the internet, and telling me, "Hey, this group hates you and will get you unless you get them first." I would laugh, call them crazy, and walk away (and probably call the authorities). My family and friends would have the same reaction. So what drives someone to buy into something that I can so easily find so absurd? While there probably isn't a universal answer, I think that marginalization plays a huge role.
It must take an incredibly powerful feeling of being on the outside looking in, of being discriminated against, of being ostracized, and Other-ized, to lead a person to feel alienated enough to act out against fellow human beings with such rage and detachment. On a much smaller scale, I've seen time and time again at schools that children who feel left out, act out. I've had success with some of my most difficult students simply by taking a little time to find some way to connect with them.
September 11th happened during my first semester of college. I got up and heard the news on the radio, and went to my first class in a daze, because what else could I do? I was lucky enough to wind up in my current issues class with a professor who ditched the day's curriculum to have a long hard look at the big picture. We talked about the role of media in a crisis, about foreign policy, about names that I (in all my white, upper middle class obliviousness) had barely hear of before- like bin Laden. At the end of class, my professor said something that has stuck with me ever since, that each of us needed to go find a Muslim student on campus and give them a hug, because they were going to need it in the days ahead. He saw the coming backlash before it began, and wanted each of us to meet it with kindness.
Although I disagree deeply with their philosophy, I can't fight ISIS, or whatever they're calling themselves this week, not directly, but I can do something about the marginalization that allows them to grow. We all can, by living the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to judge each other "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character". Each of us, regardless of skin tone, gender, nationality, orientation, religion, politics, socioeconomic status, or other petty definition can treat someone who falls into a different category with kindness and remember to reach beyond our own knee-jerk characterizations of each other to find our best selves. It sounds like such a tiny thing in a world that sometimes seems so overrun with madness, but I genuinely believe it can make all the difference.
So your homework today, my lovelies, is to find a way to spread kindness. The world can certainly use it!
Peace and love,
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