The western world is pretty shaken up by what happened a few days ago in Paris, and the response on social media and worldwide has been huge. YouTube changed the red block behind “Tube” to a French flag. Various landmarks around the world have been decorated with blue white and red lights. People are putting the French flag over their profile pictures on Facebook, and sharing memes that say “Pray for Paris.” I’m sure you’ve seen them.
This is comforting for some people, but it all strikes me as a way to make ourselves, as outsiders in this situation, feel better. It may feel comforting to you, but I don’t know that it’s really helping the situation. As an atheist, I’m pretty sure the world can do better than just pray. So what can we do?
- Skip posting about this on social media in a way that is primarily self serving. It’s OK to say your thoughts are with France, but don’t go on about your feelings. This is not about you. I realize most of social media is, but tragedy isn’t.
- Read the news. Stay informed. Call out people who want to banish all Muslims from the country or imprison all the Syrian refugees. (Sadly, I’ve heard such suggestions from members of my family.) These sorts of tactics have been tried in various countries throughout the world (think of Japanese internment during WWII in the US for instance) and they’re a very bad idea that will only further marginalize people who are part of this minority religion in that country, and as we’ve seen over and over again in this conflict, oppression will lead to more recruitment for ISIS and other extremist groups. There has to be a way to prevent these attacks that doesn’t involve oppressing minorities or religious discrimination.
- If you’re in the area, see if you can donate blood, or volunteer your time with an organization that’s helping. If you’re not–say you’re in the US or some other country, donate your money to the Red Cross or other groups that are mobilizing to help victims. This article lists some options, but always do your research before choosing a charity organization to give your money to.
Last but not least, acknowledge that there have been many more lives taken in terrorist action in the Middle East, and if you’re going to try to do something tangible for France, you should at least consider doing something similar for the people in the Middle East too. The western media, at least in the US in my experience, has a tendency to prioritize western problems over those in other continents, and I get it. We as a people have a tendency to worry more about the people we identify with. We might not be able to magically change the fact that we feel emotionally for people in Paris but not Syria, but we can at least direct our thoughts to the Middle East and stop skipping over news stories involving that region. It does start to feel like more of the same after a while, but we need to acknowledge the privilege we have in the west that for us, events like 9/11 and the one in Paris are not an everyday occurrence. There’s a reason people are fleeing Syria in droves, and maybe we should give two bothers to maybe learn what their flag (flags at the moment, actually) and the flags of other nations with this issue, like Pakistan, Iraq, and so forth, look like.
I realize this is a very emotional time for many people, and I hope I haven’t offended anyone with this post; I don’t mean to downplay what happened in Paris. It is a real tragedy and we should do what we can to help, but I really do think that we need to also stop ignoring areas that have been facing terrorist attacks on a regular basis just because they’re mostly populated with groups to which we in the west have trouble relating.
Feel free to leave a comment, especially if you have any further advice on how to offer help to Paris and other nations currently suffering from terrorist threats and attacks.