Do not let extremists win

There is no possible excuse for the actions of a few terrorists who, once again, felt justified in taking the lives of innocent people. However, as so many around the world placed French flags on their social media profiles, there were countless other atrocities that went almost unnoticed. We rarely see reports of equally horrific attacks that take place in other countries. Where is the public outcry and rage at each and every act of violence? The world media is rather selective about what it deems important enough to fit in the news in between reports of the antics of politicians and celebrities. Meanwhile, countless others across the globe are maimed, killed or forced to flee for their lives.

As we contemplated the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the expected rants against Islam and all Muslims began to emerge. Social media has been swamped for the past week with comments by individuals calling for the extermination of all Muslims, for the eradication of an entire group of people simply because of where they were born or what religion they practice. I have even been on the receiving end of hateful posts saying that since my son and I are Muslim, we too should be killed along with all others who embrace Islam. The level of vileness is astounding. Mosques across the country have been attacked, women minding their own business have had scarves ripped off of their heads while walking down the street, people suspected of being Muslim or from the Middle East have been told to “go home.”

It is a bit frightening to see people who claim to be patriotic and religious threaten others with the same types of terror that they claim to be so upset about. None of those spouting hatred and threatening others can see that, in many ways, they are very similar to the terrorists they claim to be against. The true face of racism, bigotry and extremism once again rears its ugly head. Unfortunately, geography, nationality, birthplace, religion, gender or any other qualifier you can think of has no limit for those who chose to be racists, bigots and extremists. While calmer, rational voices call for understanding and compassion, ignorance and prejudice are what get the attention. Even politicians have fallen into the trap as they call for the closing of borders to refugees trying to flee from the very same violence that killed so many in Paris.

Shutting the borders on immigrants from war-torn areas

Just as is happening in many other countries, there is a rather loud group in the United States clamoring to shut the borders to any immigrants coming from war-torn areas, based solely on what religion they may or may not practice. Insults are hurled across social media from all sides. Long-time friendships have ended, slanderous comments have been made. Why? None of these debates will change what is happening in the real world. No one is going to change their firmly held opinions because they each feel they are right. Those who espouse hatred will continue to do so. In dividing people, creating a sense of “them” and “us,” society continues to fracture and unity is not possible. In the meanwhile, as the online fights drag on, people continue by die each and every day. It seems as if the lives of others are meaningless to those who are entrenched in hatred and extremism.

Even when I lived in Turkey, I often heard people make insulting comments about other minority groups within the country as well as people of other nationalities. Several times, these statements that were presented as facts were made by people who had never met anyone from the particular group they were insulting so freely. When pressed, some even admitted that the derogatory statements they claimed were true were actually only based on what others had said about a different group. I doubt if anyone living in Turkey would be surprised to learn that the groups I heard hateful comments about most often were Kurds, Armenians, Greeks, Roma and, as the war in Syria continues, Syrians. I have heard all of these groups, at one time or another, blamed for anything from petty theft to home break-ins to murder. It seems that anything bad that happens is immediately accredited to one or more of these minorities. And yet, the people condemning an entire race, religion or ethnicity do not seem to see anything wrong with their words. Viewing themselves as “us” and anyone even slightly difference as “other” only deepens the rifts in a society that is increasingly becoming polarized.

Politicians, who one would hope could rise above the vitriol when necessary, are not immune from falling into the easy way to garner votes — making any calamity about “them” versus “us.” We all know that fear is an effective way to control the masses. If a politician can convince enough people that “others” are responsible for all the problems a country or group faces, they know they will remain in office as they pretend to present the only rational or effective alternative to ongoing violence, terrorism and extremism. For what it is worth, in my opinion, any politician embracing this type of divisiveness should be voted out of office. What we need is calm, rational words and actions. Instead of dividing people and polarizing countries, politicians need to be working to unite their countries, to embrace the freedoms enshrined in their constitutions and laws. If communities and countries continue to fracture and split apart, then the turmoil the terror groups around the world crave will become a reality. Unity is what we need.

Since the Paris attacks, there has been a noticeable rise in attacks on Muslims and mosques in the United States. People who are in no way connected to acts of terror are yet again being blamed for the actions of a few halfway around the world. My son fearfully asked if we could go to the local mosque this coming Friday for the noon prayers. We have not been there on Fridays because he is usually in school during prayer time. However, this week schools are closed for the Thanksgiving holiday. Although the mosque near our home has recently been attacked and continues to receive threats, I think it is fitting that we go there this week. If we live in fear and silence, then the extremists have won.

While I am still in the United States, I will continue to speak out when I see racist, bigoted or extremist comments. I will continue to teach my son to stand up to hatred, to embrace differences, to never condemn an entire group for the actions of a few. Instead of knee-jerk, emotional reactions, we need calm, reasoned debate on how to best deal with the massive issues confronting us all, not just in one country, but the entire world. Hatred will never usher in peace. Anger only breeds more anger.


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