Reflecting on the aftermath of the Paris and Beirut attacks
On Thursday the 12th, 43 people were killed in a terrorist attack in Beirut. On Friday the 13th, 129 lives were taken by terrorists, and hundreds more were wounded. On Friday all around the world, countless innocents died in conflicts that politicians, warlords, power-hungry community leaders, and greedy CEOs orchestrated from behind the safety of their luxurious suites and palaces.
On Friday night, I cried for Paris, for the friends I know who lost dear ones, for my relatives who witnessed blood sullying the streets of Paris which I walked so many times, and for all those who won’t be able to forget that fateful night when hate fired bullets in the face of freedom and happiness.
On Friday night, I cried for Beirut, a city which Marie, Nótt’s co-founder and my dear friend, knows so well, and for everyone who lost someone they loved in these unfair and tragic circumstances.
Now the time has come to mourn the dead. And to decide which lessons we want to learn from these events.
I believe that the only appropriate response to these acts of terrorism is love. It sounds simplistic, but it is so far from simple and easy to love life, to love others and display compassion for all human beings when hatred is such a tempting answer to terror. I have read posts shared on Facebook congratulating French soldiers who were planning to voluntarily go to Syria to “get back at [Daesh]. ” I have heard words of anger, and again and again the word “war”. It sickened me.
War is not the answer.
Terrorism wages war on those who refuse to be subordinated to terror and hatred. If we do not want to become terrorists ourselves, we have to rise above the circumstances, and systematically reject violence. Hate breeds hate, and in turn fuels violence. We have to be ready to break that cycle. We have to keep our hearts open, even when tears choke our throats and fear threatens to take over our lives.
The answer to terrorism is to love. To love life, and enjoy it fully, every second. To laugh until our eyes are filled with tears of joy, to drink good wine with good friends and talk until the first rays of sunrise light the sky, to hug those we love until our hearts swell with love, and to open our hearts to those who are scared, tell everyone we cherish that we love them, again and again, to go to concerts and bars and take over the streets in celebration of being alive.
Let’s honor the dead by making the best out of our short lives, by showing kindness to one another, and, if possible, by forgiving those who err in the dark realms of hatred. Seeking revenge is vain and only contributes to fostering more hatred and destruction.
Do you really think that guns and bullets can kill hatred? Do you think drones can fly to Syria and surgically eliminate every one of the “bad” people who belong to Daesh? Do you really think that shedding more blood will heal our wounds, and bring back the smiles of those we have loved and lost? We can kill hundreds of men, thousands of them even, but the problem will remain. Hatred grows in hearts deprived of love, in souls that have shriveled with the lack of perspectives and with desperation; hatred spreads in weak minds that blindly search for easy answers.
We may kill Daesh fighters until not one is left standing, but you know what? Hatred and desperation will still be there, because those dead bodies of terrorists are just a symptom. And it’s time to face what lies at the heart of this disease: misery. Social, emotional and psychological misery. We endorse wars around the world, wars that we deem “just” and “rightful”. We submit our lives to a profoundly unequal capitalist and consumerist system in which lives are not much more than commodities, and in which the life of a rich white guy has more value than the life of a Middle-Eastern kid. This is what we have done with our lives, and as long as we continue living without awakening our consciousness and our compassion, terrorism will grow new heads, hatred will continue spreading, and inequalities will be reinforced.
What we can do starts with ourselves. We can each change our own heart, let ourselves love instead of letting fear and hatred fill us. We can extend a hand to those around us who want help, and say no to violence, no to wars, no to the armament industry that thrives in our countries, and no to drugs, which are intrinsically linked to the arms’ trade and to the financing of guerillas around the world. As citizens, we can also petition our leaders to stop supplying weapons to other regimes, thus indirectly providing the black market with weapons that end up in the hands of terrorists.
These are not idealistic words that have no bearing on reality.
What we think and what we choose to do, you and I, every single day, has an impact on what happens in the world. Our collective consciousness shapes the energy that constitutes the fabric of the web of life. Our collective decisions bring various political leaders to power. Our collective initiatives can help those who suffer or who are lost, and give them the strength to become inspirational to their own entourage.
These past days, what you and I have done has already made an impact on other people’s lives. Many have reported that in the midst of the tragedy in Paris and in Beirut, countless acts of solidarity and selflessness have saved lives, and brought some relief to others: Adel Termos, a Beirut resident, tackled a suicide-bomber to the ground when he saw the man making his way to the mosque where he would have detonated the explosive belt he was carrying. Adel died as the terrorist detonated the bomb, but saved hundreds. Ludovic Boumbas, who was enjoying a meal at the terrace of a restaurant in Paris, threw himself in front of a woman to save her from the gunmen firing at the crow. People in Paris have opened their doors to strangers who were stranded in the city center. Passers-by have comforted the wounded and held their hands throughout the night.
Every act of kindness and love has defeated the darkness that terrorists want to throw upon us.
The ridiculous right-wing extremists who decided that they should “take revenge” on Muslims have done nothing for the dead, nothing but sullying their memory by responding to violence with violence, scattering more hate along their paths.
Let’s not lower ourselves to this level of weakness and baseness. We are much more than that. Let’s unite in solidarity, regardless of gender, religion, sexual orientation, age and ethnicity. Let’s be fearless and celebrate life together by saying no to hatred.
I believe it is also time to stop believing that ideologies and dogmas hold any immutable truths, and embrace love instead. I have always been wary of institutionalized religions because through them the act of believing has become the goal in itself. Believing in God, to me, should mean acting in ways that celebrate Creation, loving all beings unconditionally. Instead, many believers have grown to worship literary texts and men in robes, relying on them to be granted forgiveness and open the doors of salvation to the happy few. Whether you believe in the Christian God, in Allah, in Buddha, in Yahweh or in a multitude of divinities, don’t you know deep down that the only thing that truly matters in life is to love? To love your family, your friends, your neighbors and your God, and all the beings that your God has created?
God is love, and anyone who tells you the contrary or who tells you that God loves one kind of people but not the other, is spreading lies in your mind and hatred in your heart.
The fact is, there is just one race: human beings.
And God loves every single one of us, regardless of any of our particularities.
Those who say they kill in the name of God are full of shit. They are disillusioned people who are looking for scapegoats to avoid facing life. They are lost and confused, and are trying to create an image of God that will endorse their own hatred. But no God, whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish or other, is demanding anyone kill someone else in His/Her name. And likewise, no believer is responsible for the rare few who manipulate religion to fulfill their own twisted goals.
A few years ago, I had the privilege to work with Gil Loescher, a professor who worked extensively on refugee crises around the world; he was severely wounded and lost his legs during a bomb attack at the UN headquarters in Iraq in 2003. Every time he entered a room in his wheelchair, his smile lit the space. He was so full of joy and kindness, and people often asked him how he found the courage to live happily after such a tragedy—he was the sole survivor of the attack during which 22 people had been killed. He would reply that when he was working in refugee camps, he was time and again inspired by the refugees themselves. Most of them had lost loved ones in the conflicts they had fled, and lived in miserable conditions in camps where danger and poverty remained omnipresent. But refugees kept their heads high, Gil said, and never lost hope that things would get better. Their inner strength, he said, inspired him to celebrate his own life.
Let’s stop the anger and the fighting, and let’s unite instead. Let’s honor the dead by loving those who are alive, and by embracing life with renewed intensity.
I pray for all the innocent lives lost in Paris and Beirut, but also in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Israel and Palestine, for all those who drowned in the Mediterranean seas in the hope of finding a better future.
I pray to rid my own heart of fear and hatred, and let it be filled with love instead, and for all human beings to have the chance to do the same.
I pray for humanity.