Last night the ISIS inspired attack on Paris, France, killed 128 people and wounded many more (statistic as of Saturday morning, November 14th). I spent a few hours watching the news (france24.com) as well as reactions on social media. This wasn't the only terrible thing to happen over the previous 48 hours. As many have noted, there have been attacks in Baghdad and Beruit and there was a large earthquake off the coast of Japan (though I haven't heard any more news about this final item, so hopefully there was little or no destruction). Yet the events in Paris impacted me in ways that these other events hadn't. Why? This is my effort to try to think through it.
(1) I think, in part, that the events in Paris have my attention because events in France are relatable to me as an American. I don't understand the socio-cultural dynamics of the "Middle East" and so it is difficult for me to establish an idea of what to expect from that part of the world. Of course, I can be sympathetic for those who are hurting or in harm's way in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Jordan, Lebanon, etc., but the closest I've been to those countries is Israel, so I can't pretend to understand that part of the world.
(2) This isn't to say that I shouldn't become better educated about other parts of the world, but it is difficult. The United States is a nation that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. It is a task to remain aware of what it happening here and in nearby countries such as Mexico and Canada. It is important to remember that globalization is a recent development. Therefore, I don't know how well the brain processes and comprehends data concerning parts of the world that are so "foreign" in the truest sense of the word. In part, we are able to overcome this "otherness" by either (A) meeting people from parts of the world with which we are unfamiliar and/or (B) traveling to those places. Sadly, I can't claim to know people from Lebanon or Iraq, nor have I traveled there as I noted above. So my knowledge of that part of the world is "book-ish", at best.
(3) On the other hand, I have been to Paris, twice. I've been to Europe in 2011, 2014, and 2015. So, I am familiar with these places and the people there. And, of course, the majority culture of the United States is akin to and often derived from European cultures, for better or worse. I have been to the areas that were attacked last night. I can visualize and reconstruct memories of those places. My brain has evolved to this capacity and I think this must be a factor regarding why it is easier for me to relate to the attacks in Paris.
(4) Similarly, the ongoing wars in the "Middle East" make it less relatable. I can't claim to have paid close attention even to the death of our soldiers in the Afghanistan and Iraq in any sense other than nameless statistics. I don't know personally anyone who has died there. This isn't to say that I don't care, just that I care in correspondence to what I can understand. My capacity to relate to terrorism in Paris is greater than terrorism in Baghdad because I've been to one, I know people from one, and I have had experiences in one, and not the other. Additionally, as a citizen and not a soldier I can relate easier to the fear of domestic terrorist attacks upon a citizen such as myself easier than I can relate to violence in a war torn nation or a nation near a war torn nation. Thankfully, I've never had to worry about wars in Canada or Mexico bleeding over the border. But post-9/11 I think all Americans have embedded in their minds the real fear of attacks by terrorist on our soil.
(5) While I am not "French" (nationally) I won't deny that growing up hearing stories about my ancestors with names such as "LePort", "LeStage", and "Delonnay", makes France appear like "home-away-from-home". The only people who are native to North American are Native Americans. The rest of us immigrated here at some point. And while most of my ancestors have been in North America for centuries (especially Canada) it is France (and England) that I understand to be my "roots". As recently as my grandmother (mother's mother) my family was speaking French. It's recent history for us. It's hard not to feel like the French are "my people", in part.
(6) All this being said I fear, and I'm saddened by, the plausibility that Europe will now become hostile to people from Syria, Iraq, etc. Fear will cause the French and others to close their borders. People will commit violence against innocent people because they are Muslim (or, Sheik, as we've seen because people think they "look" Muslim).
(7) I don't know if it is likely, but I know it is necessary, for Europeans to remind themselves that the refugees that have been coming to Europe have been coming because they are fleeing this type of violence. The violence that has destroyed Syria is what we saw last night.
(8) Related: most Muslims are not the perpetrators of this violence. They are fellow victims. Thousand and thousand of Muslims have been victims of groups like ISIS. This cannot be forgotten.
(9) Also related: no, ISIS doesn't represent "true" Islam or the "correct" interpretation of the Qur'an. All people of religions with holy books make interpretive decisions regarding the words of their holy book. We Christians don't act upon the ideologies of the Book of Joshua or the Book of Revelation, usually, though these books can be interpreted to justify all sorts of evil, just like parts of the Qur'an can be interpreted to justify all sort of evil. That said, if a Christian tells me that they want peace and abhor violence, and that they've found this or that way to reinterpret parts of the Bible that could advocate violence, then I embrace that. The same is true of Muslims and the Qur'an. All peace loving Muslims are brothers and sisters and we share the same goals. This cannot be forgotten.
(10) Finally, as a Christian, I know that my religion has a history of radicalization. The KKK claims to be "Christian". Yet I believe the that Christianity does have inherent within it the possibility to be a blessing to the world. The same benefit-of-a-doubt must be given to Muslims. This doesn't erase this or that theological or ideological difference, but peace-loving Christians and peace-loving Muslims (and Jews, and Sheiks, etc.) share this common bond and we must work together in humility remembering that we both have co-religionists who speak and act out hate in the name of God and we reject that hate.