coverage of paris shooting: more complexity, please. thank you omid safi.

I have been searching for articles written about the tragedy that occurred last week in France that offer a more holistic and nuanced understanding of what this means for the world. While the issues are so vast and no piece can do it all, when I read Omid Safi’s piece 9 Points to Remember on the Paris Shooting and Charlie Hebdo posted at the On Being Blog it felt closer to a heart-based approach than any news story I had seen previously.

So how do we process this horrific news? Let me suggest nine steps: 1) Begin with grief.”

Ah, yes. Instead of jumping to our brains and our “rational side,” can we not mourn the violence that seems so inescapable in our personal and global worlds?

As part of grieving, Safi makes a crucial point:

“We mourn the fact that our children are growing up in a world where violence is so banal. Even yesterday, on the same day of the Paris shootings, there was another terrorist attack in Yemen, one that claimed 37 lives — even though this tragedy did not attract the same level of world attention. There were no statements from presidents about the Yemen attack, no #JeSuisCharlie campaigns for them. Let us grieve, let us mourn, and let us mourn that not all lives seem to be given the same level of worth.”

Ahhh. “Let us mourn that not all lives seem to be given the same level of worth.” What makes the news? Which images are given most airtime? Can we mourn those who ARE given great media coverage, while also mourning those we DON’T know of? Those we know exist out there, but we might not know their names? This question relates to all sorts of conflicts: unlawful arrests and shootings of people of color in the U.S., survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, religious persecution of all sorts….there are the big names and cases we all know of, and then there are the thousands and thousands more that we don’t know of, but that STILL MATTER.

While he doesn’t discuss it, Safi offers a link to an article in Vox that shows the horrendously offensive images put out by Charlie Hebdo over the years. The Vox article ends with, “But the magazine that withstood so much and offended so many has finally been silenced. Today, visitors to the Charlie Hebdo website find only a single graphic. ‘Je suis Charlie,’ it reads.” 

This article makes Safi’s words even more important: “I try to resist the urge to turn the victims into saintly beings, or the shooters into embodiments of evil. We are all imperfect beings, walking contradictions of selfishness and beauty. And sometimes, like the actions of the Kouachi brothers and Mourad, it results in acts of unspeakable atrocity.”

Later Safi writes, “And as for the shooters, they have done more to demean people’s impression of the religion of the Prophet than the cartoonists in Charlie Hebdo ever did. If the shooters wanted to do something to bring honor to the Prophet, they could begin by actually embodying the manners and ethics of the Prophet. They could start by studying his life and teachings, where they would see that Muhammad actually responded to those who had persecuted him through forgiveness and mercy.”

This is a difficult time to be in the world. It is a difficult time to know what to think, which story to believe, or how to move forward. I think Safi’s 9 steps are very helpful. I think many of the comments on the article are also helpful, such as Maruf Khan’s statement: “There ARE thousands of Muslims in the streets of Paris standing side-by-side with their fellow French people of all other religions mourning and decrying this heinous act. We are all in this together. Muslims are just as much victims of such extremists. In fact majority of the victims of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Al-shabab… have been Muslims.”

Like most things, I feel the need to make the story more, not less, complex, in order to understand it. And while many of the comments on this article are loving, many are angry and hateful and accusatory of other commentators. On one blog post. How many more have been written about this issue? The power of words is fierce. Let us be careful of the words we choose. Let us remember that in Krista Tippett’s interview with Dr. Reza Aslan, Dr. Aslan aptly points out that we would never use the term “The Christian World” without immediately being more specific, and yet the term “The Muslim World” is used all the time. Dr. Aslan writes, “the connotations are that there is something monolithic.” And Islam is anything but monolithic.

Complexity. Complexity. Complexity. Peace for the world. Peace for our inner lives. Peace peace peace.


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