Monday, November 16, 2015

Why I am thinking of Paris

Pain can create beauty

We've put a couple days between us and the terrible events in Paris now, and those past days the Facebook has been flooded with many dumbfounded reactions shared by my friends, family and myself. I am seeing patterns in these posts; the one that struck me immediately is the number of people urging to "Pray for Paris." I see this one whenever there is a tragedy that happens someplace in the world - "Pray for Boston," "Pray for Moncton," and many others complete with matching hashtags. What is interesting about applying this meme to Paris is that France is one of the least religious countries in the world. I have to wonder if these expressions of religious devotion from around the world are as comforting to the French as the speaker intends - especially given that these attacks were themselves born out of a religious dedication.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't pray - by all means, everyone should observe whatever litany their faith teaches, and they certainly offer their supplications on behalf of the people of Paris. I just wonder if it might be better to just keep that to oneself, and speak to the people of France with words that may be more meaningful to them.

But don't just take it from me - let's have someone in France weigh in:

A photo posted by Joann Sfar (@joannsfar) on

So then what can we do? When these kinds of catastrophes happen we all feel helpless; yet we want to offer something to those who are hurting. We can't all jump on the next flight to France to lend a hand, but social media has made the world so small today: we can offer hashtags and status updates, tri-colour profile pictures and memes. But what kind of content is respectful and useful?

As the initial state of shock passed, the next thing I noticed was a slew of memes and comments that are critical of immigration. This is particularly poignant here in Canada, where our last government tried to stir up this xenophobic feelings against immigrants in its attempt to gain re-election. It failed spectacularly, because for the most part Canadians are more generous and caring than our former Prime Minister's campaign wanted to give us credit for. Our new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau is going to be challenged on his decisions to accept thousands of Syrian refugees, and his shift in strategy in the battle against Daesh in Syria. Trudeau and his ministers need to make the right decisions, and he needs the support of his people in doing so.

I am no military expert, but I suspect neither is the average Facebook poster. However, I try really hard to investigate things that I see - to read different points of view, to check facts, and to seek out reliable sources of information - before I assume that I should report my ideas to the world at large. I may make mistakes, but I am really loathe to. I want my words to raise the level of the discourse, not lower it. So I find it frustrating to see so much material that comes from ideology without analysis, driven by an emotional response to things that are simply not understood.


When you are afraid, it doesn't matter to you that terrorists are not known to masquerade as refugees to get their operatives into a country for attack. It doesn't matter that the numbers clearly show that immigrants don't "take out jobs," but actually propels economic growth that creates jobs. It doesn't matter that the Syrian refugees are the people trying to get away from these evil people. And it doesn't matter that the overwhelming majority of Muslims have beliefs and values similar to our own (I won't say that I have no problems with Islam - I also won't say I have no problems with Christianity). Because you don't know those facts. Facts are not what matters in the face of emotion: all that matters is that the worst fears of your imagination are possible.

Which is really paradoxical:

Interesting interview with a former Muslim extremist. Some interesting points:- an overwhelming majority of "domestic"...
Posted by Joey Reid on Monday, November 16, 2015

And this is all exactly what the terrorists want. Just like ten months ago, when another group of extremists (also in Paris) attacked the office of Charlie Hebdo. They were able to silence their critics and when the Western media cowered in the face of some of the details and images around the story, the terrorists could be satisfied that the free speech we brag about herein the civilized world had been wounded.

Some people, and otherwise very reasonable people that I respect, acted as if Charlie Hebdo deserved the attack because they were "poking the bear". Yes, exercising their free speech. Yet on this past Friday night, Parisians were provoking the terrorists by doing what? Going to a rock concert. Eating out at a restaurant. Going to a football game. Should we gird ourselves in fear, no longer filled with a joie de vivre like those 129 who died? No! We need to live our lives to the fullest, we need to welcome those fleeing the villains; and we need to be rational - taking count to know that the odds we are next on the list are so vanishingly remote, even while we soberly admit the possiblity is real.

When we speak out from our emotions and not our reason, we do more damage on behalf of the terrorists. When we spread fear and uncertainty on subjects we don't really understand, we are making their job easier. We must be thoughtful, and diligent to learn the matters at hand.

In the end, Paris doesn't need us to pray - it needs us to think.