I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other day. He, like many others, saw the Paris attacks as a result of the negative consequences of religion. Religion was to blame, essentially. Needless to say, it was a terrible shock for people across the world. And yet, something other than the outpour of sympathy and concern emerged out of the Paris attacks. There were several reactions to the attacks in Paris; some that touched the hearts of others (e.g., a Frenchman who wrote an open letter about losing his wife, and his refusal to sink to hatred) while others were rather dumbfounding (see Donald Trump for a bit of ‘entertainment’ if you will). I’m going to focus on two that made the most impact on myself.
The first one is the rising anti-Muslim movement and Islamophobia. We humans love stereotyping (it requires much less cognitive effort to stereotype and to depersonalize), so it isn’t so surprising to see that most people who blame Islam for the Paris attacks, and many other attacks by ISIS, are also people who have become increasingly anti-Muslim, and vice versa. It is worrying that some people believe in this rationalization of the attacks; however, this is not nearly as concerning as the case of established politicians advocating this belief. We may see politicians such as Trump as idiots, but we do know that they possess an enormous amount of resources and support to get to where they are now – more importantly, they have a much larger scale of influence than we would like to think. In my opinion, radicalism can be found anywhere, in any religion, of any belief. Indeed, some religions may provide more ‘reason’ to encourage perspectives that lead to violence, but to say that Islam is a religion that incites violence and hatred and directly accountable for the numerous deaths that ISIS have caused, is simply lazy and illogical reasoning. Such reactions can lead to prejudice, discrimination and eventually violence in the name of self-defense. Our goal should be to work towards peace, as Dalai Lama said himself (Murali Krishnan, 2015). Praying offers comfort, but we should not expect God to solve the problems we have made.
The second one should be familiar. There has been significant public outrage over double standards in reactions over Beirut bombings compared to the Paris attacks. Before you go accusing your friend of caring less about “non-Western” countries or about the media neglecting to report Beirut in the same fervour as the Paris attacks, you should consider two points. One, major media outlets have reported on Beirut, extensively so for some, less so for others – but nonetheless, it was reported. What we should be questioning is why as readers we skimmed through when Beirut was being bombed, and stopped to stare for Paris.
The second relates to the first point raised. As much as we like to think that we are equal in terms of our ability to empathize with others, the rather difficult to swallow truth is that we do discriminate between who we empathize more with. We empathize more with people whom we can relate to, we donate to charities that are in line with our values, we volunteer for particular organizations that speak to our heart – and this can vary depending on our personal experiences, people we know, our exposure to media, and so on. Many of us who live in modernized countries and affluent cities find it easier to relate to people who also live in modernized countries and affluent cities.
It is imperative that we move beyond this blame game (whether it is blaming religion, or blaming someone for being biased) and that we place priority on building peace through perspective taking, understanding and establishing international cohesion. After all, as Nicolas Hénin (2015), a French journalist who has experienced being a hostage of ISIS suggested, ISIS “fear[s] unity more than our airstrikes”.
Murali Krishnan, J. (2015, November 16). Dalai Lama on Paris attacks: 'Work for peace, and don't expect help from God and governments'. Retrieved November 21, 2015, from Deutsche Welle: http://www.dw.com/en/dalai-lama-on-paris-attacks-work-for-peace-and-dont-expect-help-from-god-and-governments/a-18852858
Hénin, N. (2015, November 16). I was held hostage by Isis. They fear our unity more than our airstrikes. Retrieved November 21, 2015, from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/16/isis-bombs-hostage-syria-islamic-state-paris-attacks