How do we Process the Evil? Reflections on Paris

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How do we Process the Evil? Reflections on ParisAuthor’s Note: One year ago, the Paris terrorist attacks raised the specter of evil to new heights. I wrote this piece at that time. But it seems appropriate to post it one year later.

11/13/15. The day of the Paris attacks. Perhaps a waking up in the West to the fight against terrorism at home. It was Europe’s 9–11. And a call-to-action for the world to dig in and fully commit to defeating the scourge of terrorism besieging our planet.

World Reaction to Paris Attacks

French President Francios Hollande dubbed the attacks “an act of war against France.”

U.S. President Barack Obama decried this “attack on the civilized world.”

What happened in Paris is horrific. No question. Although I stand in solidarity with and prayer for the French people, I could not follow the crowd of people on Facebook who were putting a French flag skin on top of their profile pictures.

Why?

Simply, I am friends with so many who come from nations hard hit by terrorist attacks for years, even decades. People for whom terrorism is an ever-present reality. The losses and pain they have experienced is, in my estimation, no less than what Paris experienced on 11/13.

Putting France’s flag over my profile picture would communicate, I believe, that this one, being in the Western world, somehow mattered more.

From a political and historical standpoint, I won’t disagree that Paris 11/13 is likely to carry greater weight. It throws the refugee crisis in Europe into even further disarray. Many innocent refugees are now being eyed with even greater suspicion they might actually be planting terrorist cells.

Paris matters. But there’s more.

From a people perspective, Paris 11/13 is significant, but not dominant. Tens, hundreds and thousands of people are displaced, injured and killed every year by egregious acts of terror.

A couple of days after the Paris attacks, one of my Lebanese friends (now a U.S. citizen) posted, Of course what happened in Paris is terrible and I am sad for the lives lost in this attack, but I am shocked how many posts, news feeds and prayer requests are spreading all over FB. Two days ago no one mentioned Beirut. We lost 40+ precious lives in the same kind of attack, and nobody bothered to report it or mention it. What does that tell you about this world? I’m shocked and so sad at the same time…”

And a response to her post:

“This is just so sad… People only know what they want to know… And it’s almost ‘cool’ to say they mourn with France. But they have blinders on when it comes to the rest of the world. It’s heartbreaking that they don’t acknowledge the horror elsewhere in this world.”

An Intercultural Response to Paris

So my solution, though imperfect, was to build a skin showing the flags of nations that have lost significant numbers of people in terrorist incidents in the past two months. That was my criteria.

I googled “2015 Terrorist Acts.” Finding a comprehensive list (Wikipedia) wasn’t difficult.

The sheer number of incidents was shocking. Most we never hear about. And most are in the developing world. Or, in a reverse-Obamaism, the “uncivilized world.”

But I kept to my criteria. And, of course, this meant that due to limited space, some flags would be left out. Like Israel (two friends complained), because there hasn’t been a large-scale incident in the last two months (thank God). Or the Palestinian flag. “Palestinians are dying every day,” one friend wrote. “They are people too.”

Or Ukraine. Which, I will agree, has seen appalling violence as well, but has been more under the radar of the international press.

It’s difficult to draw the line when it comes to evil.

But my point, in the end, was to recognize that this isn’t only about Paris, but it’s about humankind. Or, humanevil?

Is there an Antidote?

So, this gets me to the question posed in my headline. Amplified, it is, “How can we aspire for good in this world, in connecting across cultures well, when some – a very small, but dangerous minority – are conjuring up suspicion and spreading evil and hatred?”

The very antidote to this evil is found in genuine concern, care and love expressed to the ‘other,’ not turning them away. For, in most instances, the ‘other’ is a regular human being who aspires for good. Not perfect, but wanting what is right.

I was disheartened to read a New York Times article on November 16th, three days later, about the response individual U.S. states are having towards the Syrian refugee crisis. Namely, how 23 states were opposing further placement.

And the U.S. has taken in such small numbers – less than two-tenths of a percent of the number Germany has taken in during the 2012–2015 period.  

[Author’s note: Now, with the 2016 election results in, this spirit of welcome the U.S. has, in most instances, been famous for is under attack. The spirit of isolationism sweeping our world today mandates those who believe it is wrong to take a stronger stance in the power of love.]

Love always Wins

The arguments for and against are numerous, too much to cover here. But my simple point is this: We always win with love, we always lose with hate. If we welcome and help, we can win many who could otherwise become more disillusioned and turn towards evil – in this case, terrorism – for their solution.

And one other point. Love is risky. Whether it is choosing to enter a relationship, a marriage commitment, or even bringing a child into this world. To love invites the possibility of change. Of loss. Of betrayal. But, most times, if our love is sincere, the risk is low and the gains are great.

Now is the time we must rise up in love. Creative love. Smart love. God’s love.


In what ways, whether directly or indirectly, can YOU reach out to others with creative, smart and sincere love?

 

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Caroline DePalatis

Founder & Interculturalist at CultureWeave
Caroline DePalatis has worked in the field of international education and service for over 20 years. A graduate of Stanford University and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, she's still doing much of what she was trained in: bringing people of the world together. A committed Christ-follower, Caroline longs to shine the Master Designer's awesome creativity expressed through the cultures, languages, peoples and places of our world. And then there's dark chocolate. Definitely a channel for intercultural communications!
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Caroline DePalatis has worked in the field of international education and service for over 20 years. A graduate of Stanford University and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, she's still doing much of what she was trained in: bringing people of the world together. A committed Christ-follower, Caroline longs to shine the Master Designer's awesome creativity expressed through the cultures, languages, peoples and places of our world. And then there's dark chocolate. Definitely a channel for intercultural communications!