The killings in Paris last night have left my mind whirling and heart heavy this morning, along with many others around the world.
I have found that many comments on social media this morning have felt contrary to my own feelings. I do not see this as “good vs. evil”; I don’t despair of humanity. This does not mean for one second that I condone these killings in any way, or feel anything but the deepest, most heart-felt empathy for those that have lost beloved family, friends and colleagues, but simply that looking at them in isolation – or blaming an entire religion for the actions of a tiny minority of extremists – fails to take into account the deeply conflicted, complex and separated world in which we live.
I began the day by writing down my experience of being in London during the 7/7 bombings in 2005, because those memories were powerfully re-awoken, and it felt like an important part of my personal processing; I am also aware that for many of my friends and family, the same memories will have risen to the surface, and will certainly be playing some part in our reactions to what has happened in Paris.
I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness, and a desire to better understand the layers of what this sorrow means to me. It begins, naturally, on a purely individual level – the flashbacks to the London bombings; memories of being in Paris last year and imaging being there last night, dead or injured or losing loved ones. It raises very personal fears of loss, death and instability.
But the bigger fear, I think, on a more communal level, is that we mourn a clear grip on when and where we are safe, and when vulnerable; of good and evil and wrong and right, and we cling to these simplified concepts to try and stabilise our tilting world. Killings – of hundreds, thousands, millions – we can accept as a part of conflict or conquest, yet we expect to feel safe in countries that are at peace – or, at least, where there is no defined ‘war’ on their home soil.
Life itself is inherently unpredictable, and a globalised world with widespread, high-speed travel and instant communication across vast distances is changing constantly. We fail to understand the complex histories of our own countries, let alone the nearly 200 others around the globe, and the billions of other human beings alive at this very moment in time. From the comfort of our homes, behind the safe screens of our computers, phones and televisions, as we feel these deep fears and yearning for predictability and safety, it is always easier to condemn then to try and unpick the long and nuanced events that have led to such violent expressions of hatred within multi-cultural communities that uphold many of the values we applaud and believe to be fundamental to humanity. Yet in doing so we ignore the complexities of not just each individual human heart and experience, but of an ever-changing and incredibly diverse world.
How do we work towards peace, in a world full of conflict? How do we contribute towards a united world with less hatred, anger, and violence? I don’t know what we can achieve, and I don’t know how we achieve it, but I do believe that we need to start first from a place of humility at the smallness of our understanding of complex realities, balanced with a willingness to admit our fear and confusion without needing to lay blame and create further divisions and hatred.