Do I Have Parisian Blood on My Hands?

If you’re like me, you’ve spent hours over the past few week reading articles in hopes of trying to understand what happened in Paris, why it happened, and what ISIS (aka ISIL or more accurately Da’esh ) actually is.

Maybe you started to cry when you saw the timeline of attacks and aftereffects in the NY Times. Perhaps you were angry when you read that it possibly could have been prevented, or you may have even felt a swell of emotions when you saw some governments take immediate action and strike back.

Perhaps you felt guilt when you realized you weren’t as aware or empathetic to those suffering in Lebanon, Mali, Egypt, and Turkey from similar attacks.

As you sifted through your emotions, I’m sure you tried to talk to your friends about the attacks and you realized how little you actually know about what happened, and why it’s happened thousands of times. Maybe, as a group, you questioned how it’s possible that people could ever do this to others…

I wonder if, like me, you put your head in the palm of your hands and questioned what this means for humanity… and what you can do about it.

As you attempted to make sense of the situation, you probably started to notice some overly-simplistic themes emerging in reports about ISIS/ Da’esh:

  1. It’s funded primarily from corruption in governments in an unstable region
  2. The sale of oil enables wealth creation which is funding the movement
  3. Extreme Islamists can use that money to recruit more Muslims, indoctrinate them, and get them to attack more

Then perhaps you saw this year-old video from Reza Aslan make it back to the top of your social media feed, and you begin to question your understanding of radical Islam and what ISIS actually is.

Upon further reading, you learned that the situation is much more complex, with competing personal, political, and religious forces at work. This interesting video from RT America became quite popular in its attempt to share the origin and history of ISIS.

If you’re like me, you probably saw some consistent themes:

  1. ISIS/ Da’esh is so extreme it actually doesn’t represent Islam at all.
  2. People that associate with the core belief of ISIS that are discriminated against and unable to find a sense of belonging seek that belonging elsewhere, much like people will join gangs.
  3. A lack of access to basic services and massive underemployment in the regions where ISIS is spreading makes it easier to find more recruits.

I hope you then you saw this video from Waleed Aly and begin to realize that this increasingly complex situation might not be as complex as you thought.

Even if your understanding of the situation is still not complete (and don’t worry, you’re not alone), you have probably realized that it is easier to explain what it isn’t: It is not fueled by the Muslim religion, nor is it driven by Syrian refugees.

ISIS is fueled by two extremes of human nature that sit on opposite sides of the spectrum: desperation and fear on one side, and the thirst for power on the other — Both of which lead people to doing terrible things. In fact, the thirst for power between competing extremist groups is sickening as it is maddening.

It dawned on me, as I hope it dawned on you, that ISIS is made up of individuals, the same way that slave traders, Nazi’s, and Hutu’s were also made up individuals. As author Bernard-Henri Levy shares in a chilling opinion titled Thinking the Unthinkable: This is War:

“…as for the relentless culture of excuses that persists in portraying these death squads as oppressed and excluded individuals pushed to the edge by an unjust society and forced by poverty to execute young people whose only crime is to like rock music, soccer, or a cool autumn night at a sidewalk cafe, that is an insult to the world’s poor as well as to the dead.
No. These ignorant men who level their guns at the gift of life and at the freedom of movement and expression of the world’s great cities; who detest the urban spirit as much as they do the underlying spirit of laws, rights and peaceful autonomy of people freed from ancient subjections; who could benefit, if only the words were not so utterly foreign to them, from Victor Hugo’s protest in response to the massacres of the Commune: that attacking Paris is worse than attacking France because it destroys the world — these men should rightfully be labelled fascists.
Better: fascislamists.”

It was at the moment that I was questioning the human-nature side of the this situation that I found this clarifying article about ISIS, and upon reading it I realized a terrible thing: I may have — unknowingly and unintentionally — contributed to these terrible attacks, or at least the events leading up to it.

To quote the article’s author, Yonatan Zunger:

“The entire Middle East has been in a water, and thus food, crisis for decades… When we talk about the ultimate causes of the situation, this is the fact we tend to ignore: at the root of it, there isn’t enough water, and there isn’t enough food, and droughts have been hitting the area harder and harder for a decade. When there isn’t enough food, people move from the countryside to the cities; and now you have giant groups of people who still don’t have jobs or food, and that’s a recipe for the collapse of governments as surely today as it was in Europe in the 1840's.
If you’ve ever wondered why I have often said that we need to be very actively worried about climate change, this is it. Changing climate breaks agriculture in various areas; the people who were farming there don’t magically turn into factory workers or teleport to places which are (slowly) becoming more fertile; they become desperate former farmers, generally flooding into cities.”

So do I have Parisian blood on my hands?

I think I do… at least a little. And if you don’t believe that, you’ll believe this: I don’t have a medal of valor in this fight, either.

Even if Paris, Beirut, Bamako, and Istanbul weren’t directly our fault, they are our problem. And this problem requires immediate action, from everybody, everywhere.

Here’s what I’m committing to do about it in my personal, professional, and political life, and I hope you’ll consider joining me.

1. PERSONALLY

  • I’ll be working with my wife to further cut down consumption and activities that increase the need for oil (as if the threat of global warming isn’t enough cause!).
  • Donate to and volunteer with causes the address climate change, as well as economic development and equality in areas that need it, at home and abroad.
  • Learn more about the Sustainable Development Goals and start taking action.
  • Treating everyone I meet as equals, regardless of cultural, economic, religious, and demographic differences.

2. POLITICALLY

  • I’ll vote for candidates that take a proactive approach to reducing demand for oil, are tackling climate change, that focus on economic development opportunities for all, and are addressing inequalities and disparities in all societies
  • I’ll vote for candidates that recognize that global issues are domestic issues and domestic issues are global issues
  • I will never vote for a candidate that so much as hints at religious or cultural persecution or promotes any type of isolationism.

3. PROFESSIONALLY

  • My company, and its employees, will never discriminate on account of religion or culture.
  • My current company, and any other endeavors in the future, will measure itself not on short-term profits, but on delivering long-term benefits to people and our planet.
  • I’ll continue to grow as an empathetic, globally-aware, and sustainability-minded leader, and I’ll help my team to the same.

So do YOU have Parisian blood on your hands?

This is a question I urge you not to ask yourself anymore. What’s done is done, and we must learn from the lessons of history and prevent more bloodshed.

The question should now be: What can I do to prevent the spread of more extremist-led violence?

As Waleed Aly claims “We need to come together… if you’re preaching hate at a time that we need more love, you’re helping ISIL.

Now is the time to open your mind and open your heart, not just to your neighbors, but to all those living on our shared planet.

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