It Isn’t About Us. Really.

It Isn’t About Us. Really. July 6, 2016

The New York Times recently ran yet another “why aren’t Westerns outraged” articles after the attacks in Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, and Baghdad.

In the article Anne Barnard suggests that this failure of outrage serves the Islamists by making Sunni Muslims feel ever more isolated from the West. “One of the primary goals of the Islamic State and other radical Islamist groups is to drive a wedge between Sunni Muslims and the wider world, to fuel alienation as a recruiting tool. And when that world appears to show less empathy for the victims of attacks in Muslim nations, who have borne the brunt of the Islamic State’s massacres and predatory rule, it seems to prove their point.”

Read that twice. We are supposed to believe that young Muslims, outraged at terrorist attacks by ISIS, will then join ISIS because Westerners are not equally outraged. Really? Do we think that Muslim young people are that easily manipulated? That they say to themselves, “The westerners weren’t outraged enough when ISIS killed my fellow Muslims, so I’ll join ISIS and kill more of my fellow Muslims.” Ms Barnard is attributing to grown men and women the lunatic logic of pre-adolescents.

I fear that Ms Barnard has offered, as have those whose many variants appear on my Facebook home, another way of turning the tragedy of ISIS based terrorism into another narrative about us, a narrative in which our Western outrage is worth so much more than the outrage of the Islamic world that it alone will crush ISIS recruiting. I think it gives us the wrong kind of credit and therefore misplaces blame.

There is a moral argument to be made, as John Donne did rather eloquently, that every human life is part of mine, and all should draw equal grief, remorse, and outrage. However, to do so in practice with regard to terrorist bombings would leave us paralyzed with outrage. And that doesn’t mention the other things that should produce outrage: police killings, hate attacks against Muslims, domestic violence, sexual abuse of minors, the rape epidemic, gun violence, bigotry, misogyny, anti-immigrant hatred, and on and on.

My Facebook home page is a scrolling record of outrage and changed profile pictures. As are most people’s I expect. Which may explain why so many us use our time watching dancing kittens and befuddled dogs. We are too overwhelmed with expressions of outrage and anger to take them seriously.

It is tempting for journalists and bloggers (like myself) to focus on the ideology and propaganda of ISIS and other terrorists. This is our familiar territory and the weapons one yields in these battles are suited to those who don’t mind changing their Facebook profiles (or writing a blog or op-ed) and have no other tools to fight terrorism. Yet reality is both more simple and complex.

It is simple because ISIS is a military force in control of territory that provides a safe haven from which to plan and coordinate attacks. As long as this is the case it remains unaffected by outrage at any level. It is more complex because undermining ISIS efforts at creating alienation requires building real relationships, not just posting on Facebook or tweeting.

For non-Muslims this means engaging in real dialogue with local Muslim communities, attending their Iftar dinners, patronizing their shops, becoming friends with them at work, and working with them in our schools and communities. In other words it means engaging in real acts of solidarity and love – something that remains all too rare, but is the only kind of activism that counts.

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