pray for paris

This past weekend in Paris, a city I’ve visited and which I’ve often thought about returning to, was attacked by terrorists affiliated with ISIS. They attacked six different locations throughout the City of Light, including a concert hall, the Stade de France, and two restaurants. At last count, nearly a hundred and thirty people are dead, including seven of the terrorists, and over three-hundred and fifty wounded. The terror threat is apparently still high, and the search for the remaining perpetrators are still ongoing.

And in the midst of the death and horrors, people have come together from around the world for Paris. Through the power of globalization and connection, human beings have shouted out, in tweets and status updates, in blog posts and videos, through television broadcasts and press conferences, through offers of help and condemnations of the terrorists, to stand by France as she works to bring the rest of the terrorists to justice, to take on the sickness that is ISIS, and to heal her wounds after such a horrific series of events.

Still, there’s a dark underbelly to this show of solidarity. My mother and I were discussing this underbelly in the car after dinner last night. Barely two days after the attacks, some people have been condemning Muslims and the refugees from Syria and other parts of the Middle East for the attack (despite the fact that most of the terrorists appear to be European and only one is confirmed to be from Syria). People of all sorts, from members of France’s far-right political party the National Front, including its leader Marine La Pen and US representatives, to bloggers and common people from all over the world. In the need to blame someone for this attack, some are turning to two very large, and lately very popular, scapegoats: those who follow the teachings of Muhammad, and those who left their homes with very little, if anything, just to escape violence and fear.

RC cover

My mom then turned to me and said, “Kind of reminds me of Reborn City. There are people who see a woman with a hijab and feel afraid. Zahara gave that up and even dyed her hair blond to avoid that fear.” That surprised me, but then I realized she had a point. In a small way, the world is beginning to resemble the world of Reborn City.

If you’re not familiar with RC, Islamaphobia is a big theme in the novel. The war on terror devolved into a huge, worldwide conflict, so that by the time of the story most of the world is suspicious of Muslims. Zahara Bakur and her family take measures so that they will be at the very least tolerated by a population that is suspicious of them. Still, it doesn’t always work, and there is still a lot of discrimination in that world that goes unchecked.

While the real world is not at the level that the world of RC is, there are places that have made it difficult to be a Muslim. Angola and Tajikistan actively shut down mosques all the time, and certain European countries have banned burqas and hijabs. France’s Interior Minister has discussed the possibility of shutting down mosques perceived to be preaching dangerous interpretations of Islam. Here in the States,  Donald Trump has said that if elected President he may pursue that course of action.

And because many of the Syrian refugees are Muslim and one of the terrorists was from Syria, some are reacting against refugees. Poland has already said they will not be accepting new refugees, and several US states are now refusing to take in any. Some in the US now wish to screen refugees based on a religious test.

The refugees are not the people we should be lashing out against.

You can’t judge an entire group based on the actions of a few. I don’t judge all Christians based on the actions of Westboro Baptist Church, nor do I judge all football players because a few have been charged and sometimes convicted for violent crimes. But so many people insist on judging Muslims and the Syrian refugees that way. And based on my own experience with Muslims, that isn’t right. That’s nonsensical.

Zahara’s experiences in the book reflect that. Early on she becomes aware that people don’t like her because she’s a Muslim, that they’re afraid of her for things that occurred in her parents’ and grandparents’ generations. She takes steps to be accepted by society by changing her appearance and taking part in “normal” interests and hobbies, but no matter what she tires, people see her as different. They see her as dangerous without even getting to know her. And it’s how people see her that spurs Zahara throughout RC (and its sequel, Video Rage, and probably the final book too) to show people that she is not what people think of her. To show them that she can be kind, and brave. And even good.

In the wake of Paris, we all want to fight back against the evil that caused the attacks. But the evil isn’t the refugees, nor is it Islam and its adherents. No, the evil is ISIS, al-Qaida, Boko Haram and the other terrorist organizations, wearing Islam like a Halloween costume, scary but not the real thing. The real Muslims are standing up to these fakers, standing in solidarity with Paris and showing their disdain towards these inhuman monsters hijacking a respected religion. The last thing we want to do is turn our backs on them, punish them for being who they are.

Instead, we should be thanking them for being allies we can count on for support in hard times, like Zahara is for her friends in the Hydras. Because after all, if we show them the love they deserve, they may return the favor and, like Zahara does, surprise us in all the best ways.

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