A World in Pain

On Friday the 13th of November, terrorists coordinated attacks on Paris that consisted of mass shootings, hostage taking, and suicide bombing. When the dust settled, 129 people were dead and 415 were wounded.

ISIL is claiming responsibility for the Paris attacks in the wake of attacks made by France on targets in Syria as part of Opération Chammal, a French military operation that has been ongoing since September of 2014. And France is responding to their declaration as an act of war. On November 15th, France sent 12 planes to drop 20 bombs on ISIL training camps and ammunition facilities in Raqqa in the single largest air strike of Opération Chammal so far.

I followed the explosion on Twitter as everything unfolded on Friday night. I watched people sending out messages saying that they were OK. I watched the inevitable unfurling of racist tongues lashing out to speak hate against groups they felt justified in maligning.

The next day, I watched people speaking out against the violence that has been happening in other areas of the world. Violence in Syria, Beirut, Baghdad, and elsewhere that goes unremarked.

Like a lot of other people, my mind went back to the only substantive moment of terror that most Americans can remember. September 11, 2001.

The actual circumstances of where I was and what I felt and thought while it was happening don’t matter. What matters is the fallout. The aftermath.

In the days and weeks that followed the terrorist attacks on American soil, America did what it does best when it feels directly threatened: It fought back. And we the people saw paraded in front of us a veritable parade of reasons for fighting. A parade of images of the people who had harmed us and who rightly deserved our hatred.

When I look back at that time, I remember to my shame how I locked step with the rest of the country and hated a whole group of people without discrimination. I was 17. I focused my hate along with the rest of the country, impotent as it may have been.

I was so, so wrong. And even a year later, if you had asked me what my thoughts on the Middle East were, my answers would have been so, so different.

Before we even had a death toll on the attacks in Paris, people were taking to the internet and calling for the blood of the “Islamic State” without having the first idea of the implications of what they were saying.

It’s so easy to turn to a place of absolute hatred when things like these happen. And I think it’s especially easy for developed, western countries to flip a switch and go to a terrible and hateful place. But ask yourself this before you give in to that feeling.

We experience attacks like this very rarely. When you feel that hatred well up inside yourself, pause and think. Imagine what it would be like if we experienced an attack like this every year. Every month. Imagine experiencing something like this every day. Imagine the fear, the terror, the hopelessness that would come from experiencing something like that. And then realize that what you are imagining could not possibly compare to the reality of living under those circumstances.

So when you feel like the pain is too much and the world is too scary a place. When you feel that hatred well up in you, try reaching out with compassion to areas of the world that experience terror and violence every day. Turn your pain and your anger into love and empathy and compassion. Make a donation. Volunteer to help refugees in your area. Write your elected representatives and ask them to speak out for the rights of people fleeing violence.

As hard as it is, that love is the only way that I can see out of the horror that threatens to overtake us in those dark moments.

As an atheist, that love and compassion is the closest I can come to an offering of prayer.

Enough is Enough: Terrorism in America

Last night my phone blew up just as I was going to sleep. There had been another mass shooting. This one in Lafayette, Louisiana.

After the previews, John Russel Houser stood up, turned to his fellow audience members, and opened fire. As of right now, reports are of two dead and eight wounded. Houser, of course, killed himself after perpetrating the act.

What happened last night in Louisiana was nothing less than an act of terror carried out against innocent people.

The question is, how long are we as a country going to let this shit go on?

So far this year, there have been 204 mass shootings in the United States. Mass Shooting Tracker (i.e., the most depressingly relevant web site ever to exist) defines a mass shooting as an incident “when four or more people are shot in an event, or related series of events, likely without a cooling off period.” These shootings, it should be noted, do not have to involve a death to be added to the list. That said, 204 is a completely unacceptable number.

204.

204 shootings.

This is unacceptable.

Houser last night stood up, calmly, in the middle of the theater, and simply unloaded his gun into the crowd in an act of blatant terrorism.

Ten dollars says that the gun he owned was purchased legally. They are already saying that he had a criminal record, but that it was quite old. So he may have been able to purchase the gun legally depending on the type of crimes he had previously committed.

It is worth noting at this point that he has not been characterized by the mainstream media as a “thug.” Nor even as a terrorist. They are calling him “shooter” and “gunman.” They are white washing his crime with words that are not meant to incense the public emotionally. They describe him so far as a man from Alabama who had “no known connection to Louisiana.” We haven’t seen his previous mug shots. They aren’t speculating on his possible mental health. Dealing with crimes committed by white people in this country is a surgical procedure. Everything is carefully named and processed and handle

As opposed to when a black person commits a crime in this country At which point the investigators and reporters play Jackson Pollock with the facts.

Governor Jindal of Louisiana said last night that what we can do is “pray” and “hug these families.” How about we do more than that? How about we work on reforming gun legislation in this country so that this shit never happens again? Because if you’re not doing that, your fucking hugs don’t mean jack shit.

Hatred, Terror and the Shooting in Charleston

I woke up this morning to the same news as many of you. Last night in Charleston, North Carolina, a white man consumed by hate shot and killed 9 people in a church after a prayer meeting.*

My heart goes out to the community in Charleston and to the families and friends of those injured and killed. I cannot begin to imagine what they are going through.**

The scariest thing about events like this is that, although we condemn the people who have committed these acts, the fact is that the person behind the gun is simply that: a person.

Things were simpler when I was younger and lived under the mistaken assumption that Bad Guys were easily identifiable and worked for Evil Organizations with names like Cobra so you knew they were bound to do something terrible. As an adult, I’m aware that a lot of the terrible things we see happening are the result of individual choice. And that terrifies me.

When I was in high school the 911 attacks happened. I won’t bother to recount what they were like. So many of us were around when they happened. And the events themselves are not the point.

After the attacks, the people around me were so angry. I want to say that I was somehow above all that. That I saw instantly the inherent humanity of the cultures out of which the terrorists arose. But I was young and I didn’t have that inherent response. The people around me infused me with anger. I didn’t know who to point my anger at, so I pointed it at the countries that we were told by the government were the ones responsible. And I felt that anger with all the forcefulness of a teenage girl who had not yet learned important lessons about temperance.

I hated a group of people intensely. For a moment. Before I stopped myself and started to work out the nuance of that group. I saw the absurdity of hating a whole swath of human beings as though they were responsible for the actions of individuals.

The things that cause and engender violence on the part of individuals are more complicated and nuanced than simply being born in the same place. Eventually, the choice to do violence unto another person comes down to individual choice.

But that’s the scary part.

Individuals.

I could walk through my life and manage to never be pushed by external or internal forces into an act of senseless violence. But the people around me have no way of knowing if I will one day snap and do something terrible. Something irrevocable.

The bastard who shot up that church last night deserves to be punished. The terror that he has inflicted upon the community in Charleston is very real. And lasting. The damage that he has done can be measured in lives lost and terror inflicted.

He is just one man. And that’s what frightens me. That one man could do so much damage and cause so much grief and somehow be missed by the authorities until after he had done something so terrible… it makes me afraid. Which I’m sure was at least part of his goal. That’s the way that terrorists usually operate, after all.


*That man, Dylann Roof, has since been apprehended. It’s worth noting that he has been taken alive despite having killed 9 people. A privilege that is not afforded many people of color in this country who have been killed for merely having a gun, or just walking down the street. I can’t wait to hear the mental health and “he was a quiet boy” defenses start rolling off tongues in the peanut gallery. I want to talk more about this story as it unfolds. I’m already exhausted in the face of the racism inherent in our media and police force in their handling of this situation. I’ll muster up the words for my thoughts soon.


**Please consider making a donation to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to help get their community through this trying time.