When I heard about the Paris attacks yesterday morning I felt as if power was draining out of my body in the span of of a heartbeat. I spent the rest of the day at home, almost paralyzed, until I forced myself out in the evening. I’ve been to Paris a couple of times in the past, and I’ve recently taken up learning French again, so it’s natural I feel sth personal this time. I saw many comments and posts on the web, asking why there is (again) such an outcry for Paris vs. Beirut or Bagdad or any other non-Western place, and I understand there’s all kinds of systematic bias at work. But for me, it’s just a personal connection I feel naturally, as France it’s so close to Germany.
I’m much better today, and I simply went back to my desk – and worked.
I can’t donate loads of money to charities. I can’t be in France to show solidarity. And I can’t help all the other millions who have been struck by violence or injustice in their lives, be it from the IS, or the US or whatever. It all makes me feel angry and helpless and sad. So this is my response to the manifold evil in this world: To keep on working on stuff that will improve other people’s lives. The little comic that I’ve been drawing in solitude for almost a year. The tasks that I do for ARI. The book that I’m helping a colleague with. These are my tiny contributions to help someone on the other side of the globe becoming a more compassionate person or have one more meal to eat. My role might be small, but I wouldn’t work a single minute if I didn’t believe it would contribute to at least a fraction more of peace and wealth to this world.
And here is where I disagree with that post that I saw on Facebook. One of Charlie Hebdo’s artist, John Sfar saying sth like “Don’t pray for Paris. We don’t need more religion.” And the comments of people who make this post viral read like “religion is the problem!” and “prayer helps nothing, do sth instead!” I understand that a non-religious person would prefer some visible, concrete “action” instead of “prayer” or a “religious response,” but why create more division between religious and non-religious folks in times like these? For a religiously matured person prayer is not the replacement of action but its very basis, its starting point.
Prayer expresses the wish for good, and switching to that mindset alone is important. When we pray together, we unite our hearts, become firm in our sense and gain courage to act. When we pray we fight the darkness in our minds, the kind of darkness that can lead people to hurt others. In prayer, we can connect not only to some higher existence whose goodness we aspire to imitate, but also to the spiritual realm within, where we feel solidarity, compassion, truth. When Sfar mentions that his faith goes to music, kisses, life etc, he talks, in essence, about universal spiritual values. The stuff those terrorists are aiming to destroy. They are the worst enemies of religion.
I know dozens of great religious people, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, whose creed and spirituality give them the purpose to – often under great personal sacrifice – serve others. Those who think religion is the root of all evil because of all the violence, war and injustice it’s supposed to be causing apply the same logic as Islamist terrorists who point to decades of war, torture and exploitation committed in the name of Western Democracy. Both positions contain truth, and both miss the point. This war isn’t between between “their” -ism and “our” -ism. This war is as old as humanity itself, and it will forever exist as long as humanity exist. All we can do in this short life is to take sides and hold the darkness back. As long as you light a flame it doesn’t matter whether your candle burns on art, or faith, or humanism.