Sunday, 22 November 2015

Terror and Grief

Have been thinking a lot lately about the recent attacks on Paris and the way people from all around the world have responded to it. Watching social media feeds, listening to people talk, following the news coverage, responses have ranged from a violent backlash against the Syrian refugees and Muslims in general, to a redoubled determination to reach out to and provide aid for those same people.

What struck me hardest was the hate. In the days following the attack, and even now over a week later, the degree of hate being spewed across my Facebook page rattled me. The hate--hate directed not at Islamic radicals, but at all Muslims and particularly those fleeing the same types of radicals who orchestrated the attack in Paris--shook me even deeper than the attacks themselves. Because what we should be fearing isn't refugees, or Muslims, or terrorists. What we (humanity) should fear is extreme hatred, no matter what form it takes, or who it's directed at. Responding to an act of extreme hatred with extreme hatred is self-defeating. Hate begets hate. And that's not just some hippy-dippy love-your-fellow-man theory--that's something that has been demonstrated in history again and again.

In trying to understand this outpouring of (in many cases misdirected) hate I am now framing peoples' reactions to the horrifying attack within the context of grief. When faced with a tragedy, it is natural to grieve, and when grieving, it is natural to go through the five stages of shock and denial, anger, depression and detachment, dialogue and bargaining, and acceptance. What I would like to think is that at least some of what I was seeing drift across my newsfeeds was not hate for the sake of hate, but a natural phase in the cycle of grief--the shock, denial, and anger that one goes through when grappling with the loss of life.  I would like to think that a portion of these expressions of hate were expressions of the anger of grief, and therefore a necessary part of the process in moving towards acceptance, and something more positive.

Of course, the question then becomes is it possible to authentically grieve for people you did not know? Can you grieve when the loss is not personally your own? Does the cycle of grief still apply? I think so, though my feeling is that that cycle is significantly abbreviated for those of us not directly touched by a tragedy.

In the end, I suppose it might not matter whether the hateful words people speak and the actions they commit in the wake of November 13ths attacks stem from a place of grief, or from a place of actual hatred. The damage done is the same. But for me--grief, I can understand. I can forgive things said and done in grief. I cannot find it in me, however, to forgive anything stemming from pure unthinking hate.

To leave on a note of hope, and healing:

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