When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. – Luke 22:49-51 (NRSV)
I’ve been ill this week. I had a long nap yesterday afternoon. And I woke up to the news of terrorist attacks in Paris. I always seems to hear this sort of news when I’ve just woken up, no matter what time of day it is in my locality.
I don’t want to trivialize the pain and grief of Paris. But I do think we need some context. See, we in the Global North (or West, if you prefer) have no idea what it is to live under the constant threat of terrorism. Imagine if each and everyone of these attacks got the press and attention and out-pouring of support Paris does:
These 10 countries had a total of 12,441 terrorist attacks in one year (last year). That’s 34.1 incidents EVERY SINGLE DAY. And we did nothing, we said nothing, we prayed nothing. There were no rousing songs of solidarity, no offers of help or safety or sanctuary, no outcry on Twitter and no 100,000 Facebook posts of peace signs and flags and grief. We looked away. We decided those people don’t matter. In these 10 counties alone 34,647 people died. And we said they didn’t matter. Official counts from Paris are still blurry but I keep seeing the number 35. Why do these 35 lives matter so much more than those 35,000 lives?
I have friends living in some of these countries, friends born and raised in these countries, friends who can’t afford to leave these countries. This isn’t a theoretical issue for me. It doesn’t matter if I have an open mind about people and places — Do I have an open heart? Do you have an open heart? Can you imagine, for just one second you lived somewhere there’s an attack more than once a day? How about if you were born in Pakistan and your country had nearly 6 attacks every single day (on average) and you just wanted to go to school and find work and take care of your family?
Why do we care about Paris but not Pakistan or Iraq or India or the Philippines?
Do you know what those 10 countries all have in common? They are all former colonies of Western Europe. Every single one of them. Did they get paid for their plundered resources? Or did they get abandoned to struggle for stability and self-determination and basic survival after decades, centuries, of rape and pillage and abuse? Many of these countries are still used as sources of cheap labor, cheap raw-materials, cheap garbage disposals.
Do we really want to win a “war on terror?” Let’s go heal the ears, the scars, the suffering. Let’s see people. Let’s value the life of an Iraqi mother as much as we do the potential life of an American fetus. Let’s address our own parts, individually and collectively, in supporting a system where might-makes-right, where people starve, where structural poverty and racism and sexism are all linked. Where we can pretend it doesn’t happen here and ignore what happens there. Where we have so much excess in a world where some are robbed of life.
Know what we can do?
We can make friends with people who are different. Don’t just have an open mind, have an open heart. Make friends of people from different faiths, different countries, different colors, different genders. Learn about what they believe and where they live and what their live are like. And when tragedy strikes in their neighborhood pay attention and reach out, ask what you can do, offer to pray, send a card, offer the shelter of your home.
We can turn down our heaters and drive less and consume fewer resources. We can stop buying products made with sweatshop and slave labor. We can quit buying from transnational corporations which sell weapons and technology used to oppress people in other lands. We can divest from any company that profits of human suffering. We can honestly look at where we fit in the pyramid scheme of structural poverty.
We can acknowledge how we benefit from the evil legacies of colonialism, from racism, from sexism, from global capitalism. We may not be guilty for the things our ancestors did but we are responsible for the world we live in. We are able to respond to the suffering of human beings. We can learn history from the perspective of Native Americans, of Africans, of Asians. We can see how that history directly impacts the lives of human beings today and we can move forward keeping that in mind. Maybe instead of asking every Muslim on the planet to personally apologize for and condemn Islamacist terrorism we should personally apologize for and condemn our invasion of other countries, our greed and materialism, our violence against and sexualizing of women, our intolerance or people we refuse to understand, and our ignorance of global geography and foreign policy.
We can refuse to strike back. We can stop the cycles of violence. We can learn how all violence is tied together and unravel this knot one thread at a time. We can protest violence against women and minorities in our own communities. We can address the violence in our own hearts and see our own shadows for what they really are. We can put ears back on (and hands and feet) and be healers rather than haters.
We can pay attention. We can grieve those other 35,000 victims of terrorism.