As you probably know already, last night Paris was shaken up by several terrorist attacks. When talking with a friend living in Paris, we noticed how similar our reaction was. Of course the terrorist attacks themselves scared us, especially her: “Hearing about these things always makes me angry but having it happen so close actually mostly scares me. The feeling of not being safe. A luxury we really take for granted.” However, our reaction to the attacks scared us as well. I felt a fundamental rage, not pointed just at the perpetrators, but against ‘them.’ Exactly because it is so unclear who ‘they’ are, terrorism is of course so scary, but it also makes it very difficult to be angry with particular people. Yet, events like these make us think in terms of ‘us versus them.’ It is a basic gut reaction, that is perfectly understandable, for group animals like us.
Nevertheless, even though that feeling of rage is understandable, it is also dangerous, extremely dangerous. Now it is more important than ever to stand together with moderates who support freedom of speech and democracy, no matter their personal background. However, events like these have the potential to create massive cleavages in our societies, because of that initial gut reaction. My friend and I both felt ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’ ring true. Even we, with our nuanced thinking of university students, felt this divisive gut reaction, and we rationally checked it for its truth, and we saw that it is not clear who ‘they’ are. However, in many people this completely justifiable rage and scare, might be directed towards innocent people, who only bear superficial semblances to the people who committed these attacks.
Terrorism will never destroy Western societies, its force is completely inconsequential in the grander scheme of things, even if too many innocent individuals have lost their lives. However, what might tear our free and safe civilization apart is the blind rage that attacks like these can awaken in us. How many times can attacks like these occur, before innocent, peace-loving Muslims will start suffering from this? Can we manage to control our anger and scare, and try to find rational solutions to protect ourselves as much as possible against terrorism and intolerance, without descending into blind rage directed at the wrong people? I really wonder how often this can keep happening before people get so scared and angry that they start lynching the innocent.
The coming years we will have to repeat again and again, that ‘they’, the warmongering and the violent, the narrow minded and the hateful, are a minority. A minority to be taken seriously, and a minority which has fundamentally placed itself outside of democratic procedures and a minority which has foregone its own humanity. But it is still a minority. We should continuously warn ourselves to not let our understandable and justified scare and anger reflect on those who only share some superficial characteristics with IS and Al Qaeda fanatics. As Charlie Chaplin, in his critique of Adolf Hitler, said in 1940: “In the 17th Chapter of St Luke it is written: ‘the Kingdom of God is within man’ – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.” In the coming years we will have to repeat again and again, that in the end love must triumph and hate must meet its demise. All of us who believe in freedom, no matter our background, we all stand together.
Bottom Line: We should not let the hateful divide us. While our gut feeling, a blind rage against ‘them’ is understandable, we should try to control it, so we only punish and discourage those who want to destroy freedom, while being tolerant of everyone who is peaceful and tolerant, no matter their background. We all stand together.