The tragedy in Paris, as well as Kenya and Lebanon, should send reminders of the fragility of human life in our modern age. Instead, it is fostering a growth in a continued movement for nations to erect walls and allow more weapons to be used to separate and kill people who are not like “us”. Think about that for a moment and consider the following.
More weapons will not stop atrocities like the events in Paris, Kenya, or Lebanon from occurring. A common message sent out from certain aspects of society, particularly in the United States, tries to state that had there been more guns in the hands of the innocent people in Paris, then the atrocity would not have occurred. They state this somehow believing it as solid fact. However, one cannot know if that is true or not. While there might have been fewer people killed, there also could have been may more killed in a crossfire between those who committed the atrocity and those who were trying to defend themselves. In addition, it is alleged that those who committed this heinous act were also prepared to die at all cost, including the use of suicide bombs as what happened near the stadium. I doubt more firearms could have stopped the bombers from committing their horrendous acts.
Then there is the call for walls to be built, either literally or figuratively, to keep out immigrants and refugees because it is currently assumed that one or more of the terrorists carried passports from Syria, the homeland of the majority of those same refugees. While it is horrible that this may be the case, what about the thousands more who are not the aggressors, but the victims of the aggressors? There are thousands of people who are fleeing for their lives from the violence caused by ISIL/ISIS. The majority of them are simply trying to survive, not flee to the West to commit violent acts.
Besides, walls don’t work to keep people, good or bad, out. If someone wants to get around a wall, he or she will find a way to do so. Centuries ago, China built a wall to keep out aggressors. It was breached. Each day, hundreds of people cross the walls and boundaries of countries as they seek a better life. Some remain, and some are deported back to where they came.
But there are other walls that become built that are unseen. These are the walls that separate people in a more social sense than a physical one. One wall is prejudice and the other is fear. These two walls are ones that are sometimes insurmountable, not because of their size, but because of how people latch onto them with such fervor. These unseen walls cause us to place barriers between one another. Sometimes, these walls are in the form of words we use to label large groups of people as being bad based on the actions of a few people who look like the group or happen to worship using the same terms as that group does.
Right now, it happens to be Muslims who are being portrayed by media and certain elements of society as being nothing but bad people. They are called terrorists as a whole based on the actions of an extreme few of those who hide behind what is a peaceful religion. The vast majority of Muslims want nothing but to live in harmony within their communities as well as those places where they live among non-Muslims. The majority feels the need to pay for the sins of the few as they are pressured to speak out against acts of terror or be seen as supporting it. Yet, if people from a different religious background commit an atrocity, the innocent of those backgrounds are not pressured to speak out. If a Christian person commits an atrocity, there is no call for all Christians to speak out against it. If a Jewish person commits an atrocity, there is not call for all Jewish people to speak out against it. Only the Muslims. Yet, there are some who continue to say that if they don’t, then they are guilty of the supporting the crimes committed by the few.
The problem is not with religion, it is with people in general. The problem is not with needing more walls, but needing fewer ones.
That’s right, I said fewer walls to separate people. The walls of ignorance, fear, hate, oppression, poverty, war, and famine need to be torn down. In their place, we need to build one thing up above all else. We need to build up our fellow humankind. We need to end wars, and start spreading peace. We need to replace hate with love. We need to eradicate poverty and build plenty. We need to educate others so they may have what they need, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
A recent article I read was one where the interviewer had the rare opportunity to speak with ISIS prisoners of war in Iraq. The vast majority of those who were interviewed did not join ISIS for religious reasons, but for economic and emotional ones. They were starving and this terrorist organization promised them a way out. The terrorist organization gave them someone to blame for their problems, in this case, the West. While some of that is true since, while many of these people’s lives were bad under Saddam Hussein in Iraq, their lives became worse once he was deposed as civil war broke out in their country based on centuries old hatreds. Some joined out of fear that if they didn’t, then they and their families would die.
As I read the article, something occurred to me. The reason why many of these people joined was similar to why people join street gangs. Some fear that if they don’t, then they will die. Others do it as gang life promises them a sense of belonging and/or prosperity. Some join because they are so far in poverty that they need someone to blame and the gang tells them who to blame for their situation. This is not unlike those who voluntarily joined the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. It is not unlike those who joined the Ku Klux Klan in the post-Civil War South. It is not unlike those who join militia groups in modern society or other fringe, hate-filled groups. The majority of people who do so are looking for more in their life in some way and the gang persuades them that gang life is the way they can have or be more than who they are.
There needs to be an alternative to this lifestyle to make it stop. Rather than waging war in countries against people, there needs to be a fight for better living conditions. A fight for jobs. A fight for equality for all people regardless of who he or she is or what he or she believes. There needs to be education for all people to understand different cultures and religions as find common ground between them rather than what is different about them. Education is a powerful weapon against hate, fear, and violence. When humankind understands differences, then it becomes harder to fear or hate them. Instead, there becomes a natural instinct to try to see the similarities. But this only occurs with the chance to learn about our differences in a non-biased fashion. It comes with knowing who we are as individuals and facing our fears, prejudices, and ignorances, acknowledging them, and going beyond them to build understanding.
None of this means we have to like the way others are. It doesn’t mean we have to become like who others are. It does mean we must respect our differences and embrace our similarities. We must learn to love one another, whether we like them or not. For some people, this is seen as being too politically correct, as if that is a bad thing. However, it is actually being more humane to our fellow humankind.
Will this end all the problems instantly? No, there is no quick fix as many hope. It took time to build the walls, it will take time to tear them down as well. But it’s worth it.
The late Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” This rings so true for our world today. Peace can only come through light, never darkness. Hope can only thrive where all humankind sees one another as one rather than as many.