These are days we’ll remember.
Friday’s psychotic mass killings in Paris shook the Western world. The president of the United States has spoken. Where we might have been interested before, where we might have been engaged, we are now invested.
My young friends tell me that we’re less outraged by the murders of browner peoples: explosions at funerals in Beirut; mass shootings at Kenyan universities; slaughter in Syria; bombs volleying to and fro, from the West Bank, to Israel, and back again, wasting the lives of innocents.
But Paris …
I tell my young friends that to mourn Paris does not exclude mourning for the people killed in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Gaza, Libya, Kenya, or Somalia. But I admit: We compartmentalize the Middle East and Africa. We think of them as a war-torn blur on the globe. We mute the volume on the TV; we change the channel; we scroll past the news of strife over there – death, destruction, terror – as we take in the online news of the day.
We who have lived longer, I readily admit, have become inured.
A wise woman once told me that our brains are not designed to assimilate the horrors from every village; we can barely absorb the horrors in our own villages: the murder-suicide in Jacksonville’s Oceanway neighborhood leaving a mother to grieve the loss of her precious, 5-month-old twin baby girls; the steady tally of bodies of black men on the north side; the slumlord whose tenants’ children take cold showers in crumbling buildings, while the Red Cross is dispatched to the Eureka Garden Apartments.
And now, Paris …
Bombs, bullets and death at soccer games, in concert halls, and in restaurants: Those get our attention. Paris was not a war zone, after all. (Until now.) We were not conditioned to think of Paris as one of those places. (Until now.)
Paris is the West’s iconic haven of culture, art, music, fine food … all the accouterments of civilization. A place that gave us bon mots, like “accouterments.”
“F— your accouterments,” the jihadists are saying. “They mean nothing to us. Your civilization means nothing to us next to the promises of paradise.”
The horror in Paris reminds us the covenant of civilized life is a fragile thing.
It reminds us that the progress of humankind, as we know it, is out of reach for many of our planet’s struggling people. It reminds us that many people are angry, desperate, lost – and that it’s a short step from powerlessness to violence; from being disaffected to being suicidal and homicidal, with a shared psychosis given the right leadership.
Perhaps we should have paid more attention to scholars like professor Cass R. Sunstein during our luxurious peacetime days. Read quickly. There still may be some time.
The horror of Paris reminds us of the ultimate power of narrative, of the timeless human quest: to make meaning of our lives.
What, in this ever-shifting, complex, unremittingly harsh world might offer more certainty, more security, more honor than knowing – believing with our whole human hearts – that we are acting on the voice of God? What could be more defining, more inviting, more purposeful than jihad?
Are civilized, peace-loving peoples ready to answer that question?
At this writing, we sanction France as they bomb the hell out of ISIS strongholds in Syria.
Are we ready, in this pivotal moment on the brink of global war, to try to find ways to rebuild not only nations, but individual lives? Are we – who buy and sell political power like so much ad space, who let our own children go hungry and without proper medical care – still the world’s leading voice for freedom?
What is it, America, that we want the world to be? What, indeed, does
America want to be? Do we remember who we are?
Or are these questions, too, lost in the luxury of a peace now ended?
Psalm 121: Je lève mes yeux vers les collines d’où me viendra le secours.
Julie Delegal, a University of Florida alumna, is a contributor for Folio Weekly, Jacksonville’s alternative weekly, and writes for the family business, Delegal Law Offices. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.