I had planned to write about something positive in education and to share a blog I read about a new “populism” in the democratic party, when I heard on Friday about the killings in Paris. That stopped me. My first response, like so many I heard on the news, was “no.” How can this be happening again? The pain this is causing—I felt fear and then anger and tried to imagine being in Paris or Syria. The situation is both simple and more complex than I can understand. Simple because people were murdered and others are in pain and this is just wrong. It is horrific. It is also complex; there is no easy answer to the situation in Paris today and in Syria and other places in the world, no matter how much I and others want there to be one.
Acts of terror are carried out to spread fear though a populace and lead a country, especially a country claiming to be democratic, into a frightening double-bind. Anger and fear can convince people to call for measures of revenge and protection: violent revenge not only against the people who carried out the attack but the belief system and political situation that gave it life. Protection can include all kinds of measures to defend against further attacks. But as we learned from Edward Snowden and subsequent revelations, protection and revenge can lead to over-reaction and the destruction of the rights and liberties necessary to keep democracy alive. To protect democracy, we end it. That is terrorism’s goal. As many people have said, all of us who abhor terror must fight not only against murder and destruction but for democracy, for the rights, equity, humanity that should characterize a government and are our best weapons against terrorist ideology.
Society is held together by the most precarious of ties. It is not just buildings and institutions, but relationships, ideas, empathy and dreams. Spread enough fear and you can break the ties that bind us together. Instead, we need to do the opposite. But how do you do that? All I know is that a commitment must be made to not create more harm through the actions taken to make us safer and the world less violent. To eliminate the inhumanity that is ISIL requires studying and untangling the massively tangled web of beliefs, suffering and oppression that gave birth to it. One aspect of ISIL is the absolute belief in the rightness of its ideas as well as its mission to destroy anyone that gets in its way or has different ideas. Fighting them requires not becoming them. It means recognizing that the ideas we hold dear need to be held with some humility and with an awareness of the limits of our powers to understand the world. For the U. S. it means, for one thing, to call for actions that support the French and undermine ISIL but not ones taken only to serve immediate political expediency and influence an election. It means improving the way we care for and support each other, instead of letting fear drive us further apart. (Check out this link.)
A report on Al Jazeera said that, instead of hiding, the people of France were out on the streets, in cafes, taking comfort in resisting fear together. I hope that all of us, in France, the US and other countries will learn how to face evil without becoming evil, to strengthen democracy instead of undermining it.