Stories Things I Love

Paris, Beirut, Baghdad

November 17, 2015

In the past week I’ve been in Rome, London, and now Barcelona – all thriving cities with joyous people and so much to see and do. But I can’t write about travel right now.

Like many people around the world, I was struck with horror and sadness last week when 129 people were killed, hundreds of others injured in terrorist attacks in Paris. I was also heartbroken to hear of the bombings a day earlier in Beirut – the worst in the country since 1990, killing 43 people and injuring hundreds more – and those in central and southwest Baghdad. As others have expressed, I was sad to see so little coverage of these attacks, and to see comments on news sites and social media like “Muslims killing Muslims isn’t news.” I saw that comment more than once, sometimes ironically sometimes not. Either way it’s frustrating.

Which brings me to the point that has made me the most sad and angry over the past week: reactions. While the overall response around the world has been one of compassion and peace for Paris, and rightly so, in comparison there have been very few similar outpourings for other cities and victims. No world monuments lit up for Beirut, for example, and the media coverage has been overwhelmingly biased.  Then there are the negative reactions against Islam, refugees, and the Middle East as a whole, which have been astounding and disgusting.

In the West, paying more attention to Paris is understandable to a point. For Europe, Paris hits much closer to home. It’s relatable. People have been there, often many times. People have friends there, families. It’s a cultural hub and a place many hold dear, and proximity makes it that much more real. It’s an attack on Europe, just like an attack on New York City was an attack on the whole United States, even though many Americans live hundreds or even thousands of miles from that city. So overwhelming support for Paris and little mention of Beirut or Baghdad isn’t right, but it makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense though is the compassion for Paris countered by a contempt for refugees, statements about ‘radical Islam,’ threats to close borders, blanket statements about muslims with no basis in fact, racist slurs, scare tactics, certain presidential candidates turning tragedy into an excuse to push xenophobic immigration policies, and a seven-year-old child having to ask if she should tell her friends at school she’s not a Muslim anymore. 

I can’t go into this too much because it’s already making me so angry just thinking about it. Just a few points:

Refugees hate ISIS too! They’re running from them. They hate them more than we do. ISIS has destroyed their homes, cities, and businesses, killed their friends and torn apart their families. And now these people, who are risking everything to find safety and are in desperate need of support and a little human grace, could be turned away? Seriously? There are so many things wrong with this, starting with that it’s just cruel. And also is exactly what terrorist organizations want. ISIS wants the West to hate Muslims. It helps them.Why are we giving in?

Secondly, radical jihadists do not represent Islam. Just like radical Christians who shoot people in schools or movie theaters don’t represent Christianity. This shouldn’t have to be said.

I’m not religious, because I think all religions promote both good and bad extremes, and when taken too far any religion can be misconstrued and fanatics can turn their ideologies into terrifying realities. ANY religion. (Email me if you want to continue this discussion with specific examples). Just like atheism, when taken to the extreme, can make people so hateful of religion they can also become discriminatory and extremist (Bill Maher and Sam Harris I’m looking at you).

So, over the past week, I’ve been saddened by attacks, heartened by compassionate reactions, and disgusted by others, all at once. I can’t stop thinking about it, and I’m not sure what to do.

One thing I can do though, and we can all do even if on a small scale, is travel. Get out of your comfort zone. Talk to people you have nothing in common with. Ask people questions about their background, politics, faith, life experiences. Put yourself in positions where you will have nothing to rely on but the kindness of strangers. You can even do it in your own neighborhood, and you can’t do it and not learn something new or walk away with an altered viewpoint. Experience a new way of life.  It is one of the best ways to open your mind to the world, and to all of the many beautiful, diverse things humanity has to offer.

Don’t postpone your trip to Paris. Don’t be afraid of the Middle East (it’s a big region with many safe places to visit). And most importantly, don’t be afraid of fellow human beings, no matter where they’re from, what language they speak, what god or idols they believe in, what sexual orientation they are, or how they look. The vast majority of people are good. And the small percentage who aren’t want us to be afraid of them. Don’t let them win.

Anyway, in a week of sadness and tension around the world, here are some heartwarming moments:

A great piece by Margaret Corvid, who right after the Paris attacks said what I just said but much better and with more focus.

This beautiful moment outside the Bataclan. 

Adel Termos, a true hero. 

The symbol seen round the world. 

This video put together by French Muslim students. 

Messages of peace from around the world. 

These #IAmMuslim and #terrorismhasnoreligion responses (preceded by horrifying tweets from ignorant people).

Conde Nast Traveler featuring an Instagram takeover to share the beauty of Beirut.

And this:

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