In the past 24 hours, the world has watched as the attacks in Paris unfold, which claimed the lives of 129 people and left another 342 injured. World leaders have condemned the attacks and have committed to responding to these heinous acts, while citizens around the globe express solidarity. At the same time, the world has been comparatively silent about the Beirut bombings at the hands of ISIL which killed 41 people only a day earlier.
While much of the citizen response has been to express both grief and solidarity with France and the victims, some have also begun to lay blame for these attacks on refugees and to question Europe’s commitment to resettle so many this year. But as one Twitter author wrote, "Do they not realize that these are the people that refugees are trying to run away from...?"
A joint statement by the European Union recognized the risk of these attacks changing the refugee conversation in Europe, and stated in response that, "This shameful act of terrorism will only achieve the opposite of its purpose, which was to divide, frighten, and sow hatred." Only time will tell if their resolve today will stand.
The culprit for these attacks is far more complex than just ISIL. Yes, blame lies first and foremost with the leaders of violent extremist groups who seek to dominate using an extremist interpretation of Islam. But it also lies in the failure of states and international institutions to effectively respond to crisis. It lies in lack of social and economic opportunities for young people in communities affected by violence and extremism. It lies in the over-investment in arms, and a corresponding under-investment in peacebuilding and civil society leaders who are working to advance peace and human rights from the ground up. It lies in our own inability to comprehend, much less affect, events that are taking place around the world. And it can lead to an overwhelming sense of helplessness.
Solving these challenges is a monumental task, but it starts with our governments enacting robust foreign policies that empower people to affect change at home. That starts with citizens calling on government to make foreign policy issues a bigger priority, committing to understanding the interplay of these complex issues, and acting to affect change in our own communities. As global citizens, it starts with asking ourselves hard questions about why we are not equally mourning the lives lost in Beirut only a day earlier at the hands of ISIL or for that matter the 250 Burundians killed as a result of political violence over the last several months.
Recent events may cause Canadians to think twice about welcoming some 25,000 refugees who have fled Syria's conflict. Yet such reactions plays directly into the hands of ISIL, whose stated aim is to instill fear and make Muslims believe that the only safe place for them is the Islamic State. We would do well to remember that Aylan Kurdi - whose image captured the hearts of the world - was fleeing the onslaught of ISIL from his home in Konabe when he died in the Mediterranean. Those coming to Europe or Canada have experienced more fear than we will ever know and they are in search of a safe place for their families. They have lost everything, including their homes, jobs, family and friends. Many have been living in limbo for over four years and now they are looking for a new start. Our fear must not define that new start.
While we clearly cannot defeat ISIL with a peace sign, we also need to look beyond military interventions to tackle these complex challenges. This starts with empowering community leaders in areas affected more directly by ISIL to ensure that they have the support they need to tackle the risks of radicalization and the ideology of ISIL. It includes understanding how ISIL acts so that we do not play into their hands through our response. It includes having conversations with Muslim leaders in our own communities to see how we can work together to tackle these issues. And it includes making sure that we do a better job at welcoming and integrating refugees and other immigrants into our communities.
We cannot change what happened in Paris - but we have an opportunity now to welcome those affected by war to new homes and demonstrate our resolve that we will not be defined by fear and hate. In the words of Martin Luther King, "Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that."
- Renee Black, Founder and Executive Director of PeaceGeeks