Like everyone I know, I was glued to last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris which resulted in 129 deaths and 352 injures. Day by day, hour by hour, I watched the story unfold. And my heart went out to those who died. And the day following the attack, driving through Fremont and Custer Counties, I found myself passing flag after flag, none at half-mast. And I was angry that we could not think to bow our heads… for just a moment… for a country that is our oldest ally.
Just as my anger was getting the better of me, a friend questioned how we Americans could get so wound up over terrorism in France when none of us seemed all that concerned about the Islamic State’s attack in Beirut which on the previous day, November 12, led to 43 deaths and 239 injures. In both cases (close on the heels of the sabotaged plane in Egypt) the attacks were coordinated. The deaths were not the result of a lone, slavering wolf; rather, the deaths were neatly planned and executed in-concert. Chilling.
My friend Nate asked a very valid question, and his question gave me pause. I’ve heard of Beirut, and I know that it is in Lebanon – on the Mediterranean… I think. But where exactly? I’m embarrassed to say that I had to look at a map. OK. I looked: Lebanon is north of Israel and is cradled to the east and north by Syria. What an unhappy location!
As for Beirut, I checked a number of sites. Quoting Lonely Planet: “Fast-paced, fashion-conscious and overwhelmingly friendly, it’s not a relaxing city to spend time in. It’s too crowded, polluted, and chaotic for that – but its magnificent array of museums, restaurants and bars make it an essential stop.” I’ve looked at the photos: the city is stunning. Yes, as soon as the government gets the garbage problem under control, I want to go to the Babylonian heartland.
But no, the U.S. State Department warns me not to travel there.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department is not warning me to avoid Paris. Again, you have to wonder.
For me, travel to Paris makes more sense because I am familiar with the city and am willing to take my chances there. I can only hope that cooler heads prevail and peaceful Muslims living in France do not suffer undeserved backlash. But still… why is terrorism in Lebanon or Egypt or dozens of other places, not on par with terrorism in Paris? A partial answer was offered by a recent PBS four-part program on the brain.
In terms of racial, ethnic, religious, political divides, I would like to recommend a recent, NOVA program hosted by neuroscientist, David Eagleman. In particular, look for last week’s segment,“Why Do I Need You,” which explains how we are fundamentally wired to keep to our own kind. The program also explores what allows acts of human violence. Stream the series: <video.pbs.org/program/brain-david-eagleman>
November 14 a Requiem Mass was held in Notre Dame. I would have liked to be there. Just as the early cathedral builders hoped, when I sit in Notre Dame and consider the relatively thin walls, the Gothic height, and the brilliance of the engineering, I feel small and insignificant. I lift my eyes up and consider the source of inspiration. The cathedral’s date of construction ( 1163-1345) adds incredulity to its impact. The beauty of the windows and the surround lift my heart: surely when Man can make such a stunning monument, all is not lost.
We should not despair. Good and grace will triumph in the end.
William Blake (1757-1827) was an English poet and engraver. The concluding lines of his poem “The Divine Image” reads: And all must love the human form / In heathen, turk or jew / Where Mercy, Love, and Piety dwell / There God is dwelling too.” Blake’s word choices are not politically acceptable today, but his intent is clear.
Loving your neighbor is hard. To some degree, David Eagleman reassured me that our antipathy towards those who are not members of our tribe is hard-wired. We need to make the effort.