On Nov. 13, the world witnessed in disgrace the bombings and shootings in Paris for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility.
Realizing that to write about this event can promote it, and hence accomplish its purpose of spreading terror, I am morally obligated to dedicate this week’s column to the memory of those who have fallen in the name of democracy and freedom. This can only have value if we examine the appropriate course of action in response to it.
Despite the numerous reasons that divide the people of the Western world today — from income to social rights and political orientation — people immediately gathered in the central squares of major capitals in Europe and elsewhere. The quote those people repeated was, “We are not afraid.”
There were people, however, including me, who felt and still feel threatened. Fear is absolutely natural in such cases, but we must control it. Controlling our fear means being able to turn it into concrete solutions for the problems that caused it in the first place. Hence, controlling our fear means using it productively instead of destructively.
The first way in which fear can be destructive is to lead people to extremist counter-reactions. “National socialist” ideologies, which are actually euphemisms for fascist or neo-Nazi movements, are currently rising in many European countries including France, where Marine Le Pen’s National Front gathered close to 18 percent of the votes in the 2012 presidential elections.
Hence, we should be cautious at this crucial time not to feed the growth of such monsters. It is easy to blame Muslims as a whole, or to argue that there is a targeted inflow of terrorists to Europe among the Syrian refugees, in order to justify a conclusion that prohibiting any inflow is the only solution. Such conclusions can only cause hatred and eventually cost the lives of more innocent people.
The second way in which our fear can be used destructively is to use the terrorists’ methods to take revenge, especially in an unorganized manner. I admit that I am not qualified to judge whether a coalition of Western countries should organize a front targeting the Islamic State as the casualties could be enormous (though, I would definitely urge for such a coalition to take rapid measures for the protection of people from terrorist attacks).
I do know that we, as individuals, and not as organized states, can fight back with our critical thinking, our education, our morality and above all, our humanity.
A year ago I was conversing with a couple of friends in a public space. A young man, probably our age, overheard us and shouted in favor of totalitarian and nationalist, if not fascist ideas regarding immigrants in Greece.
His facial expressions betrayed his hatred. He was confused and unprepared when I asked him to join the conversation and encouraged him to defend his opinions in our mini-debate. He had no idea how to react when confronted with democracy and freedom of speech.
People who try to achieve their means through violence and totalitarianism can only be faced by exposing them to the values of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” — “freedom, equality, fraternity” — that were given to us by the French Revolution.
It is hard to respond to such cruelty and inhumanity with kindness and love. However, this is the only course of action that we should follow as individuals in our daily lives, in every conversation, in person or on social media. This should by no means, however, be interpreted as an act of tolerance for terrorism.
Most of us feel hatred today. We should put those feelings aside, as we should put aside all the differences that divide us. We should remain united, as have been the people silently protesting in main squares, and keep promoting the only values that can actually unite people.
We should keep in mind that those values, though silent, have great, inconceivable power, a power that cannot be beaten by any kind of violence, cruelty or inhumanity. We should all take a stand and overcome our fears in a productive way, such as by eagerly promoting those values that unite us.
Today I might be afraid. However, it’s one thing to be afraid and another to flinch.
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