I woke up the other morning to find my Facebook feed plastered in blue, white, and red — not to be confused with the Yankee red, white, and blue. Sadly, this was no 4th of July celebration, but instead, a sobering reminder of the 13 November terrorist attacks in Paris. So many of my friends displayed profile pictures with a French flag overlay as a means of showing solidarity with the 129 victims across 6 city locations.
I felt overcome with grief for our sisters and brothers across the pond – 129 innocent lives lost: mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, children, and dear friends.
I kept asking myself, “What does ISIS really want amidst this horrific violence, and is there anything we can do about it, given that we’re thousands of miles away?” How do we reason with a such a well-financed machine intent on using terrorism as a vehicle for religious cleansing and political expansion? Sheesh. I’m not sure there are any easy answers.
The US and France are part of a coalition relying on air strikes to cripple the group. Are these strikes effective? Do we need more of them? Maybe it’s too naive to advocate for some sort of a nonviolent approach? I’m just not sure. This is where the world starts to become more complex than I could ever imagine.
And so I go to my knees. Sure, that sounds fairly cliché; it’s common for people of faith to mention prayer when we are at a loss for words. It shouldn’t be a cop-out for thinking critically and with a creative heart. Hear me out, though: lately I’ve been thinking that prayer has to be the starting point when critically engaging issues like this.
I find myself praying not just for our Parisian friends, but also for the 43 victims in Beirut (who were killed just a day prior), and most especially for the millions of Syrians and Iraqis who have fled their home countries.
The Facebook French flag phenomenon was a moving demonstration of our solidarity with those who mourn. The US and France have much shared history, and many of us know people there or have visited the country ourselves. But the challenge, and I’m posing this to myself before anyone else, is not only to hear the cries of those with whom we are familiar — but to hear others’ cries, too.
I’ve also been reflecting on the Islamist extremists themselves, the perpetrators of these horrendous acts of terror. How can ISIS continue to kill in the name of Islam, especially since the vast majority of Muslims strongly oppose this? And then I think of the ISIS fighters who join because they otherwise live in dire poverty. The issue cannot be reduced to economics (ideology surely plays a role), but I do wonder if a deeper understanding of this desperation is needed. In any case, I pray that somehow hearts and minds may be changed.
We may have no clear solution to this conflict, but I think prayer is a starting point when we otherwise feel powerless. Seigneur, prends pitié.
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The cover image was taken by the author.