There are no words to describe the heaviness my heart feels, along with the rest of the world, about the vicious acts carried out against Paris and its citizens.
We’ve been there. The moments after the first plane hit; unsure of what was really happening, we waited with confusion. The moments and hours that followed when the second plane hit, then the third, then the fourth. Everything we knew was shaken to the core. Our security. Our dignity. The land we loved was under attack and we were powerless in those moments to stop it.
We’ve been there. We know the things that shake our faith in everything. The world spins so quickly underneath your feet you can’t find your bearings and for a moment time stops. The slow motion of fear sets in. Reality seems skewed. Confusion disorients us. The stages of grief follow suit.
I also remember feeling that way after Columbine…and Virginia Tech…and Sandy Hook. Some of you will assume that I have absolutely no right to even compare those situations with what just happened in Paris. You’d be right. There is nothing on earth I would ever want to say that takes away the immense pain the people of Paris will feel over the coming days and weeks; even years. Senseless acts of violence against a group or groups of people is the ultimate form of terrorism. I suppose with many questions in my head, I have to ask-where does our perception of terror come from? What constitutes an act of terror?
I am not writing this to take a stance on gun control. Arguing that at this moment would not only be insensitive but incomparable to anything the people of Paris are experiencing at this time. My desire is to possibly create a conversation about terrorism or acts of terror and what we conclude is an actual act of terror. School shootings are just the mechanism with which I’d like to draw a comparison as to how a certain circumstance might gain such a title.
In 2015 so far, there have been forty five school shootings. There have been two hundred and ninety four mass shootings. The FBI identifies a “mass shooting” as four or more lives lost in an incident. One hundred and forty two school shootings have happened since Sandy Hook. The latest large-scale shooting in Oregon, the shooter asked specific questions about religion to his victims before shooting them. If we base an act of “terrorism” as one that qualifies as such because it contains a religious component or motive, would that then be deemed an act of “terrorism” by our standards?
The word “terrorism” by definition under the United States code is broken down into two components-international terrorism and domestic terrorism. The definitions are nearly identical, except for the international acts of terror are outside the U.S. jurisdiction which carry other penalties and violations. They are both considered violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate state or federal law. Acts that appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population. An act designed to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.
The use of guns or school shootings isn’t the point I’m wishing to discuss. These are both matters I’m beginning to lose hope in the matter of, anyway. I pray that changes, but the discussion I’d like to have or the question I’m posing is this-why do these numbers and these acts not constitute the title of an act of terrorism? They, by theory, fit the definition. Why do we see these things which happen so frequently and not call them what they are? Why are certain groups of people more likely to be called terrorists than others and why do we not refer to our own citizens as terrorists when committing such atrocities? Timothy McVeigh committed the single largest domestic terrorist attack prior to 9/11. We change our Facebook picture in solidarity and we all say we pray for people who experience this, but what are we doing to change the things here that don’t fit the obvious form of “terrorism”?
Please don’t mistake my words for a lack of care or sympathy for the people of Paris. My heart breaks for the people who are still searching for loved ones. For the people who witnessed the violence and will have PTSD. For the first responders who will give their lives to help those in need. There is so much pain still to come for days and weeks and even years. We all know this. We have yet to fully recover from 9/11. I’m not sure we will, entirely.
My extreme sadness as a mother and as a citizen comes from the absolute detachment we have for what triggers our fear. What we think constitutes an act of terror. I know this sounds all preachy and some of you might even hurl curse words at me after saying this, but to me, there is nothing more terrifying than thinking someone could walk into my child’s school while he is trying to learn and the teachers are trying to teach and in one moment there could be multiple deaths and my government knows it could do something to at least try and curb the method and frequency with which these things happen and they choose not to. That is scary to me. It is scary that we will spend millions of dollars on our national security to protect our borders and overseas to prevent another 9/11, but we have nearly daily acts of terror playing out right at our front door and nothing is being done. Not one…damn…thing. We all know it. We turn a blind eye and pretend that it isn’t what it really is. We hide behind our liberties like they will keep us safe, because they’re our rights, after all-but we all know it’s not true.
I remember writing about Sandy Hook in 2012. I remember then thinking that we’d all be so infuriated and fed up that we wouldn’t take it anymore. We’d demand change. I remember feeling so scared and helpless and that I couldn’t honestly tell my kiddos they were safe at school anymore.
I know there are bad things that happen. I even believe evil exists. I also know I can’t shelter my children from every bad thing in the world. We teach them that terror looks like men getting on planes and flying them into buildings. We teach them this because we show it over and over again every year on the anniversary of 9/11. We remind them that evil looks like this or that and these certain groups of people are the scary ones. “These are our enemies”, we say.
For the first time writing this blog, I don’t even know what I’m trying to say, really. I just know I’m angry. I’m angry that we live in a world where we teach our children that the things we don’t necessarily understand have become the things we fear the most. We haven’t taught them that the liberties we often times have entitled ourselves with might be the very things that actually kill us. Sometimes the things we can even do something about but choose not to because it’s too difficult or not popular.
I know me saying this doesn’t change anything. I know we’ll still all watch Paris from across the ocean from our choice of electronic means. We’ll pray for them and empathize because we’ve been there. We’ll even pray that it doesn’t happen here again. We pray the evil stays away and doesn’t come for us again. The problem is, some of the very worst days we’ve had are actually circumstances that keep happening daily and we turn a blind eye. I believe it’s because if we really stopped for a moment to look at the actual numbers, it would scare the hell out of us.
It even pisses me off that the acts in Paris will work their way into the presidential campaign season as a soundbite. All the candidates clamoring for votes by declaring they’ll be tough on foreign policy and will be the most viable candidate to keep us safe, domestically. Little will be said about the numbers I mentioned because unfortunately, there are people much higher up than you and I that have too much power preventing anything from changing. It will happen again and again and again and life will go on. We’ll keep forgetting each time it happens in our schools and we’ll pretend everything will be ok. We’ll keep praying the big, bad boogey man stays away and we’ll hope it will all be o.k.
Yes, I know this was dark. I’m usually not a, glass-is-half-empty sort of girl, but tonight I can’t sit with these thoughts and not be angry. Not be sad. Sure, there will always be situations out of our control. There will always be things completely out of our hands. I just think we have to adjust what we perceive terror to be. I think choosing to not shift our point of view on this subject is keeping us from surviving that which we can actually help change.
I pray for the people in Paris. I pray they find peace after this senseless tragedy. I pray that we find ways to end senseless acts of violence everywhere. I wish tonight it were all just a little more simple. I wish we could all just be good humans. No matter what nationality or religious affiliation or sexual orientation or gender-I really, really wish we could all just be good to one another…