"When you were born you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice." ~ Cherokee

Paris…Now What? Fear or Courage?

We are driven by one of two principal forces, courage or fear.

It is during times of great challenge that our true character is revealed. Whether we are proud or ashamed of the outcome of that test is not important. The question is – what will we do next?

As each day passes we will hear less about Paris and of the horrific events of 11/13/15.

When the French flags on our avatars are replaced, will we also replace our compassion? Will our initial concern fade into indifference? Will we retreat into our own insulated world? Will we respond to the great challenges of our time with the courage to do what we must? Or will our fear determine our actions?

I have learned more about ISIS in the last 5 days than I knew since they began in the early days of the Iraq occupation. Who they are, how they came into being, what their actual goal is and what it will take to defeat them. It stands to reason I could not comment on ISIS, if I knew little about them. For a comprehensive understanding, I highly recommend  setting aside 20 minutes to read this article. Without a clear understanding of the enemy, it defies common sense to comment on what should be done to defeat them.That opinion has no basis.There is no context and it is simply ignorant.

It is also ignorance, born of fear, that drives bigotry. We see it time and time again, and now it rears its ugly head ever more fiercely. It is threatening our way of life and our future.

The U.S. has the most comprehensive refugee settlement process in the world. Since 9/11, of the 784,000 refugees settled in the United States, 3 have been arrested for terrorist related changes, none planned in the U.S. Only .000004% of all settled refugees posed a threat to anyone.

According to the Triangle Center for Terrorism and National Security, since 9/11, 180,000 Americans have been murdered. 33 of them were killed by Muslims. That is .00002% of all U.S. murders. And if you break it down to murders specifically identified as U.S. terrorist attacks, from 1970 to 2012, 60 of a total of 2,400 terrorist acts on U.S. soil were carried out by Muslims. Less than 2.5%; National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START.)

Yet in the United States, from 1970 to 2011, there were  twice as many Jewish acts of terrorism than Islamic. Many of the most horrific acts of violence in U.S. and European history have been committed by Christians, many directly attributed to Christian influences. Does this mean that Christianity, Islam and Judaism are violent? Of course not. It means that radical people committed acts of terrorism based on their religious passions and self serving application of scripture in books that were written thousands of years ago.

Religion has been used by good and evil people since it was created. Most of the wars in world history have been fought over religion. Don’t paint the good people of any faith with the same brush you paint  terrorists. Don’t denigrate religion for the radicals. Resist fear based judgment. Or we all lose.

People who burn black churches, bomb abortion clinics, blow up government buildings, march with the KKK, advocate stoning gays and those who blow up airplanes, shoot up restaurants and bomb concert venues – are all terrorists. Whether they hide behind the white hood of the KKK or the black hood of ISIS, they are no different. Whether they wear a clerics robe or camouflage pants, they are one and the same. Every one of them has hijacked their religion for evil.

Make no mistake, the ranks of the radicals in every faith is growing. And this is where our most important work must be done. We must know why they become radicalized and we must work to defeat the forces that cause it. Each of us must be part of the solution, or we are part of the problem.

Terrorists want to destroy our way of life and our principles. They want us to sacrifice freedom for security, immigration for deportation, acceptance for intolerance, love for hatred, forgiveness for vengeance.They work to instill fear and to stir bigotry, to reject refugees and create division between people. It is the core of their strategy. No matter who they are and what faith they hide behind.

Our greatest enemy is our fear. If we allow reckless political and media driven narratives to fuel our base instincts and if we lose sight of our moral compass, at home and around the world, there will be no turning back. We will be defeated by the forces against us and by those within us.

The collateral damage will continue to grow with our distraction, as we ignore the consequences and causes of the staggering challenges we face at home. 99.99% of U.S. violence is committed by Americans against Americans. Our children are dying in our streets. Where is this outrage?

We stand at the precipice of an uncertain future. Our actions will have greater importance than ever before. How we choose to act will make all the difference in the world.

If you wonder whether you are capable of what it takes, whether in the most trying times you will be able to summon the courage to fill your heart with enough love so there is no room for hate and enough wisdom that ignorance will have no place, or if you are consumed by fear or doubt that you will do what is right at the right time, than please consider the words of a Frenchman whose wife was killed in Paris:

“… I will not give you the gift of hating you. You have obviously sought it but responding to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that that has made you what you are. You want me to be afraid, to cast a mistrustful eye on my fellow citizens, to sacrifice my freedom for security…If the God for whom you kill so blindly made us in His image, each bullet in my wife’s body would have been a wound in His heart…We are only two, my son and I, but we are more powerful than all the world’s armies… You will not have his hatred either. Every day of his life this little boy will insult you with his happiness and freedom.”  – ANTOINE LEIRIS

Who among us would not wish to possess the courage to be the father this man has chosen to be?

Let us not forget who we are. Resist throwing away our long held principles for the expediency of vengeance and rejection of those who suffer. We cannot allow fear to cloud our vision of those who do not look like us. We must not arrive home in our country, our community, or our heart and selfishly declare that it is ours alone and no one else is invited in. If we do, our enemies win.

Our challenges are great. May we have the courage to choose to be unified, judgment free, and hopeful.

There is no other rational choice.