When the Twin Towers fell after the horrific attacks by religious extremists on September 11th, 2001, I sat glued to the news watching hours upon hours as the death toll rose, the tragedy played out over and over before us. After two days or so, my son, only 18 months at the time, toddled over to the TV and shut it off. It jarred us awake, dragged us back into the present and immediate life. And I will remember that moment forever.
It is far too easy to be drawn in to the sensationalism of 24-hour “news” coverage. All it takes is letting your guard down for a moment and fear will freeze you there, forcing you to ingest the unending replay of atrocity along with commentary and speculation followed soon by political chest thumping. And it will consume you.
On Friday night, November 13th, Paris was attacked by religious extremists. As soon as the news broke, I spent about 15 minutes absorbing what was happening, and then I turned it off. I knew the death toll would rise. I knew the details would come out. And I knew those responsible would be identified. I did not have to sit and watch as the videos were replayed over and over, interviews with people who were there were run, and posturing from the hatred-filled fearmongers in our own country (and abroad) began.
My heart weeps for the lives lost in Paris. Just as it wept for the lives in Baghdad, in Beirut, Mogadishu, and everywhere else where violence claims the lives of innocent people. Just as it has with every mass shooting here in the United States, although for some reason these murderers get labeled as ‘mentally ill and unstable’, not as terrorists. Just as I decry the killings of minorities by law enforcement, and the killing of law enforcement by criminals. My heart also breaks for those forced from their homes and their countries by violence, poverty, starvation, and disease. Those who are so afraid for their lives and those of their children, that they are willing to leave everything behind and risk death to get away.
In the wake of the Paris attacks, I have seen some of the worst of social media. I suppose that is not surprising, but it was across the spectrum. The far right racists were out in force, as expected, and of course, they blame President Obama first and then Daesh. But as expressions of support for France and the victims began to spread across Facebook and other media, the Left got upset, too. How dare you feel something about these attacks, but not be upset about what happened in Baghdad or Beirut? Where’s the option to put a Lebanese or Iraqi flag on my Facebook picture? And while I certainly understand the frustration there, how dare you challenge my grief and how I deal with it?! Finally, there were the cynics. Those who took the tragedy as an opportunity to get in their digs at religion (in general), people who make gestures of support, and assuming a position of smug superiority.
These events make me sad and angry. Yes, the event itself upsets me, but what lingers for me is how many people devolve into self-righteousness and base nastiness. The debate over refugees from Syria has suddenly heated up, with the xenophobia and ignorance leading the way with fear and lies. Somehow, because there are bad people ‘out there’, we should cast aside the very foundation of our country. Never mind that the murderers in Paris were all European nationals. There have been calls by (right wing) governors to block refugees coming into the United States and into the states they run. Unless they are Christians, of course. Apparently the Constitution is only sacrosanct when it meets their own extreme agenda.
So to those of you who say “turn away anyone from Syria”, I have so many things I could say to you, so many hurtful words I could lob at you. And you would deserve them all. Instead, I say this:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”