The Girl from Aleppo

image_wallpaper-40101126954_you-Always-2I’m not sure how she found me. Maybe it was from one of my articles, maybe another friend in the region shared one of my posts, but however it happened, I got a friend request from a girl in Aleppo.

I was suspicious at first. How many friend requests had I gotten from people pretending to be soldiers, or people pretending to be long-lost friends. The Internet is full of scammers and weirdos, you can never be too careful, but I looked at her profile – almost completely in Arabic – and I painstakingly translated each one of her phrases, each one of her quotes. They were inspirational messages, words of love to her sister, words of hope and caring to her people.

I accepted. Almost immediately, she messaged me.

“Hi,” she said. “How are you?”

“I’m lovely,” I replied. “Is there something I can help you with?”

It was a strange conversation at first, I thought maybe she was local and looking for a job. I thought maybe she was looking for somebody else, mistook me for someone she knew. No, it was much simpler than that. She was reaching out to someone in the West to find out if what she heard about us was true.

More than that, she was reaching out to someone in the West to let us know what we heard might not be true.

Within the first paragraph of our conversation, the word “terrorism” came up. I let her know that I did not believe Muslims were terrorists, that it was not religion that made a terrorist. Rather, extreme ideologies and radical thoughts made absurd and distended through fear and anger create terrorism. That is why you can have words like “Buddhist terrorist” that make sense, even though they really make absolutely no sense.

She said that she heard that Westerners believed that Muslims kept their women subjugated, enslaved. I said that, in some places, that is true, but not mostly because of Islam. Rather, they are cultural phenomena that are vaguely justified by the Q’uran. I said the Christian sects are just as bad sometimes.

We talked more about how humans crave compassion, and then she told me that it was midnight and the electricity would be going out soon. She apologized for bothering me, and I told her it was no bother, it was lovely speaking with her. I invited her to talk to me whenever she was available.

We spoke again, the wonders of online communication, and this time her questions were different. “I heard the kids move out of their homes when you’re 18,” she said. “I heard they had to live on their own, and they didn’t live with their parents anymore, they had to move out and get jobs and be by themselves.”

“That does happen,” I said, “and that is the cultural norm. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have close knit families. We still eat together regularly, we visit, but I think we also enjoy the luxury of choosing how close we are to our parents and our siblings. If our family members are terrible people, we are not culturally obligated to keep them in our lives. Sometimes, it’s just because our lifestyles are not compatible.”

She appreciated this perspective, but still strongly preferred her own family home, and who could blame her? She is a medical student at University, as is her sister. Her father is a doctor, her mother teaches Arabic. Her father works with the hospitals trying to salvage something of the bodies of this country, like Doctors without Borders but more dangerous. I think this girl does not believe her father will ever leave Syria.

She and her sister tried to get into a Turkish University, but they were turned away because they are Syrian. We talked about her brother who lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and how it took him two years to get a visa, and none of his friends have been able to after that. We talked about how she herself had tried and failed, then rejected.

I did what of course you know I had to do. I started asking around. Do they take Syrian refugees on Cyprus Island? Might there be room at a friend’s uncle’s hotel in Italy? Is there anyway for me to sponsor them to come to America?

The girl in Aleppo is so completely human.  She asked me, an older experienced woman, if I felt that there was one man meant for each woman.  She was really asking if there was any chance for her to find love amidst the horrors of war.  She asked me about my kids, about my belief, and I never mentioned names, but I respected her word for God, and that is enough.

This simple act, this random intermission of connection, rips my heart to shreds.  This is my daughter, this is my sister.  I said it before, and I will scream it in the face of every fear-monger until they hear it:  You are killing us, the people you love.  We have different faces and different names, and your attempt to kill us makes us dangerous.  We didn’t start it, and no one can end it – at least, not with violence.

They are not like us.  They are us.

Je Suis Paris, or How to Stop a Terrorist

#jesuishumain - also, forgive my terrible grammar in French, high school was a long time ago.
I stand with Paris because I am Human, I am not human instead of anything else.

“Je suis Paris” (much like “Je suis Charlie”) means, from French to English, “I am Paris.”  I am saying this because my heart is utterly breaking and tears are still streaming down my face as I see my sisters and brothers in France brutally victimized by a warped ideology made material in a series of horrific attacks. The body count is not (thus far) as high as, say, the US’s 2001 World Trade Center attack, but this one is somehow worse because the damage was personal.

There were human beings looking at other human beings in the face and then killing them over ideas.

There were human beings so moved by their fear and hatred and hurt and wounds that they marched on innocent other humans, unrelated to their pain, and opened fire.  They blew themselves up with explosives to try to kill other humans at the same time.  They held other human beings hostage and made them afraid down to their souls, trying in an animal-level impulse to share the fear that they felt.

In the 9/11 attack, the humans who perpetrated that crime were locked in cockpits, they were separated from the reality of their actions.  In Paris, the violence was personal, done by hand, toe-to-toe.  Do not take this to imply that I think that the Paris attacks are somehow worse than the 9/11 attacks, but understand that the nature of the violence is different, and yet, they come from the same place.

I would like to share with you a wound of mine that has been bleeding for a long time, and the thoughts that stem from it.

How to Make a Terrorist

What is a terrorist?  It is a human who is so deeply affected by fear (terror) that they are inspired to act on that fear through radical and violent means.  The fear could come from anywhere: fear of people from other tribes or regions, fear of people who don’t look like them, fear that their religion or ideology is being threatened, fear of other people’s ideology victimizing them… but most of the time, the fear comes from actions committed by humans who fit any of these other categories.

Maybe it was the collateral damage of civilians being killed and maimed while meddling Other Nations were trying to enforce their own ideas on their land (bringing democracy to a region, perhaps?).  Maybe it was recognition of the deliberate destabilization of the government infrastructure so that Other Nations could get a hold of their land’s natural resources.  Maybe it was the realization that the consumption habits of Other Nations is directly creating global climate destabilization far more than their land ever could have, disproportionately negatively affecting their daily lives.  Maybe it’s because they’ve lost a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a child to violence that was meant for someone else, over some contrived difference that never impacted their life before that moment, the true meaning of “senseless violence”.

The bottom line is, something happened to a human to make his fear so intense that he/she has to act on it by bringing that level of fear – that terror – to someone else.  And how could they imagine that there would be another way to communicate their fear?  After all, that’s the language that was used to teach them the fear.  The War on Terror is not just a miserable, utter failure, it’s made the problem about a thousand times worse.  There was a little Java game right after the 9/11 attacks that illustrated this very well, which I couldn’t find, but Jordan at NecessaryGames.Com made one that drives the same point home: Terrorist Killer.  The more “terrorists” you kill, the more you make, because fear is contagious, and intense fear is intensely contagious. It grows, it spreads like a malignant tumor, destroying everything it touches, and it is perpetuated because the first thing that the fear does is de-humanize.

This personal blood-directly-on-hands approach to terrorism that we are tearing our hair and beating our breasts over right now is the same terror that our brothers and sisters in Beirut, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Israel/Palestine, and countless other places experience every day.  This is the true nature of the humanitarian crisis that is gripping not a country or an ethnicity or a religion but our whole goddamned planet.  We are only freaking out about this in the news feeds right now because the problem has finally been brought to the Eurocentric field of vision, but it is the same mantra of hate/anger that has been screamed from the muzzles of rifles for years now, and here is the refrain:

Every fucking one of us is culpable, every fucking one of us is responsible.

Culpable = one who has contributed to the creation of a problem or situation.

Responsible = to have the ability to respond.

How to Un-Make a Terrorist

This is the core problem, this is the equation that we have to solve:  How do we re-humanize ourselves in their eyes?  How do we convince them to re-humanize themselves?  How do we remove the pretend lines of segregation, of division, to go back to being a single human race?

There’s the old government response fallback that “we don’t negotiate with terrorists”.  Have you ever wondered why that was?  Because it takes effort to try to understand what a terrorist truly desires.  Their vision has been warped by their passion to the point where the thing they think they’re defending isn’t even recognizable anymore.  The real reason we don’t negotiate with terrorists is that terrorists aren’t humans in our cultural eye.  When someone is labeled a terrorist, they no longer have rights, they no longer have value, and that means that there is nothing they can say that we would be willing to consider.  This is where we, as official government organizations, start to fuck it up.

You’ll notice that I have not, thus far, mentioned religion.  I do not recognize any of these terrorist organizations or groups as being Muslim, no matter what they call themselves (and experts agree with me) any more than I’d say that the Westboro folks adequately represent Christianity.  Can you imagine for a moment, though – and I mean, really try to put yourself into these shoes – what kind of horror must have to befall you to make you cling to your beliefs in such a way that they become nightmare versions of what they’re supposed to be?

This is my default response, to try to figure out how the deep psychological and emotional damage must’ve happened.  It is equally possible that certain organizations and individuals are only flying the Muslim or Christian or Whatever flag as a pretense without actually having those religions as their actual motivations – or at least they don’t have a proper understanding of what those ideologies are.

What if we actually started a conversation?

Before we go further, understand that I do not in any way, shape, or form condone or approve of the actions taken.  These atrocious acts are the things that we as a species should be forcibly evolving out of.

BUT!

We do need to roll it back and stop reacting to these actions. Reaction is what they’re already doing, they’re not responding.  WE need to respond.  WE need to ask ourselves what pain can be salved, what problem can be solved, what sorrow is so great that they must share it with the world. One country does not give two shits about what another country is doing unless it directly affects them – or unless that first country fears that it will directly affect them.

The way to un-make a terrorist is to find their pain and solve it, to give them their humanity back.  Yes – fuck yes, please – arrest them, find them, take them into custody, and then… find out what they need.  Prove their fears wrong.  Give them a good therapist.  Feed them well according to their beliefs.  Do not allow your pain to blind yourself in the same way that they have already been blinded.

For the love of all the gods, be a human.

It’s All About Paris

This is not just about Paris, and this is completely about Paris, because right now, Paris is the microcosm of the planet.  It is the example of what the world looks like to someone else looking in:  A tiny nano-fraction of the population acting out in deplorable ways, claiming to be justified by a majority that does not agree, and millions more turning around and saying, “Oh hell no!”  A handful of assholes is trying to fuck it up for everyone else, and if we as a planet, as a species, respond with hate and violence, we have validated everything they hate in the first place.

Please, don’t go to war.  We’ve already proven that this doesn’t work, and again, it only makes it worse.  Seriously, that game I linked up there?  Send that to every politician you know.  Dare them to play it.  Send it to every person who wants to arm themselves and shoot up an enemy.

STOP MAKING HUMANS INTO ENEMIES.

It’s all about Paris if it makes us look at the big picture, at the core problems and underlying inequalities that feed the cycles of violence year after year.  Please, fuck yes, make it all about Paris if it leads to making it all about divorcing ourselves from the narrative of fear that has ruled our lives for so long.  Change the conversation, change the story we are serving to one of love and compassion.

I’m not saying to turn the other cheek.  I’m saying, grab the hand and hold on, make it an embrace.  It’s the only way to stop the violence.

Thoughts on terrorism

A few weeks ago, like many of my colleagues, I signed petitions and wrote letters to congressfolk to try to prevent changes to certain pieces of legislation.  The specifics of the laws in question aren’t really important at this exact moment, but one of the responses that I received really caught my attention and got me to thinking.

A congressperson who shall remain nameless sent this as the opening line to the email justifying the passage of the NDAA:

“I do not believe terrorists should be brought to the United States and granted the same rights and privileges as American criminal defendants.”

Now, maybe my Constitutional law is a little fuzzy in all these years since I was in grade school, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it’s supposed to work.  Here was my reply:

“Let me point something out to you:

‘I do not believe terrorists should be brought to the United States and granted the same rights and privileges as American criminal defendants.’

 “You said that in your form letter to me.

“Now, let me point out something else:

 ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…’

 “That’s from the Declaration of Independence that started the process of American’s country-hood.  I realize it’s probably a little unfamiliar to you, but the point is that your first statement implies that what you term as ‘terrorists’ are somehow NOT human and therefore do not deserve the same rights as ‘all men’.  I strongly encourage you to re-examine your understanding of the ‘terrorist problem’.  Perhaps it’s this attitude that ‘terrorists’ are somehow not human and therefore ineligible for basic human rights that creates the problem in the first place.”

I know damn well and good that the chances of Senator Nameless actually reading my response are slim, but it’s been on my mind ever since.  I’m frankly still disgusted, even ten years later, that our response to the 9/11 event was the subsequent fear-mongering by the government to whittle away basic rights and liberties of not only “foreigners” but of our own people.

It is the daydream of many where we must sit and really wonder, though, what we would have done were we in the position of those in power.  Really think about this.  What would you do?  What would you have done?

I can tell you that I wouldn’t have done what they did – and I sure as hell wouldn’t be propagating the mistake now.  I have never regretted a single vote I’ve ever cast, but I’m hard-pressed right now not to.

Okay… besides this point about the current administration’s weaknesses, let’s really answer this.  What would I have done?

First, the question is, what created the problem?  What was done to whomever committed these acts that they felt this was their only recourse?  This is grade-school stuff.  Billy hit Johnny because Billy was mad.  Why was Billy mad?  Johnny took Billy’s toy truck without asking.  Was Billy right to hit Johnny?  No, but Johnny shouldn’t have taken the truck.  Johnny and Billy both get a time out, Billy gets his truck back, Johnny gets an ice pack, and they both apologize to each other.

Yes, I know that international politics is more complicated than that, but the premise is the same.  Really, especially on the international political level, it should start with “don’t take things that don’t belong to you” and “don’t hit”, but that’s already been done, so it’s really just a matter of cleaning up the mess from whomever sat at the desk before you.

Right after 9/11, there was a little internet game that came out.  It had you in the “sniper chair”, and the goal was to spot and shoot “terrorists”.  The catch was, for every terrorist you shot, two to ten more ordinary people became terrorists.  This is the crux of the problem:  we (they) use the word “terrorist” to dehumanize a person who has been hurt to the extent that they feel that terror (violence, bloodshed) is the only way to be heard, the only way to get things done.  (This is also known as “blaming the victim”.)  Except that most of the time, the person that created the hurt in the first place is a great big bully, and bullies don’t respond to “an eye for an eye” by realizing that they were being doodyheads and need to stop because we don’t live in a Hollywood-produced feel-good family movie.  They poke out the victim’s other eye.

It’s very similar to an abusive relationship.  Here we have an estranged ex, and the abuser keeps doing things to mess with him – being late on palimony payments, taking things from the garage when no one’s home, calling in anonymous complaints to the neighborhood association.  Finally, the estranged ex has enough and screams at the abuser in public – but no one realizes all that other stuff was going on, so the ex is the one that looks like a jerk.  The abuser continues the passive-aggressive behavior, and then the ex snaps to the point where he leaves a burning sack of poop died to a pack of dynamite in the abuser’s car.  Oh noes, the ex is such a bad person for blowing up that car!  Really?

Now, I will add a caveat at this point that suggests that the terror problem is exactly what it seems to be, that the truth has been told, and that we know everything about it.  No one starts acting like a jerk for no reason – especially not against an opponent several thousand times his size and even stronger than that.  Even more so, it’s especially weird when you consider that Islam is itself a wholly embracing and non-judging religion in its foundational points.  (And for this, yes, I’m back to speaking directly of the particular problem.)  Yes, there are sects of Islam that are extremist and violent and repressive, but there are also sects of Christianity that make those Muslims look like pacifist hippies by comparison – and in neither case do the actual numbers of those sects count more than a few thousand total.

And there are seven billion people on the planet.

You do the math.

I think my point is that to continue to use “terrorism” as an excuse to violate the rights that are allegedly being protected has always smacked of being disingenuous, but now it’s just getting ridiculous.  If, by the time this post goes live, there has not been some kind of mind-blowing and cataclysmic change in the system, I may very well have to do the unthinkable and run for an elected office – racy videos, checkered past and all.  I mean, it’s pretty obvious that the “clean-nosed” folks aren’t doing the job, so how about some people who didn’t go to Ivy League schools?