Like a lot of people, I’ve been trying to make sense of not just the attacks in Paris, but of the whole global situation that has brought us to this point. The endless loop of people saying the same thing while vamping between commercials on cable TV provides the background noise, but there’s very little thought behind what passes now for insight, so the best thing to do about that is either change the channel or shut it off and let the silence descend. (This isn’t really the fault of the cable channel talkers; they have to do something to fill the time, and there are only so many re-runs of The Big Bang Theory out there.)
That’s the first step: just stop. Keeping the noise going won’t add any more knowledge, and neither does the input of the presidential candidates who are trying to both grasp the situation and make political gains out of it. The paid consultants don’t really know more than you do in that they don’t have access to more or different information, and even if they did, it’s probably just as confusing to them as it is to the average person paying attention. Take a deep breath and think before you say something.
The second step is to look at the whole picture, not the facets or fragments. It’s not just about the civil war in Syria and the refugees fleeing to Europe, or about the decay of government in Iraq, or the support of various factions by sponsor states, or even the difference between Sunnis and Shi’as. It is all that plus the ambitions and positions of the governments involved and the local jockeying for advantage and life in the European Union and beyond. It doesn’t mean winning a war; it means finding a way to peace with all sides at the table.
It also means that we must recognize that extremism isn’t just limited to religious fanatics in the Middle East; we have our own crop of them right here in the good old U.S.A. Just because it’s been a while since they blew up anything and killed just as many people as died in Paris on Friday night doesn’t mean that they’ve gone away. Their response to these attacks is just as demented and poisonous as the ones who attacked in the first place.
Finally, just listen. The voices that need to be heard will make it through all the chatter. Instant retaliation may feel good — it works in the movies, right? — but in real life there is no credit roll and swelling music. The politicians and the people we elected to do the job of protecting us have to do their job without all the noise or the easy fixes that can be proposed in a Tweet. The biggest danger we now face is the overreaction to these acts by those who would exploit it for their own gains both there and here.
Oh, and if changing your Facebook profile picture to add the French tricolor to the background makes you feel better, by all means go ahead. We all need a little symbolism now and then.