It is Saturday morning the day after the attacks in Paris. The news is on television and I’m staring at a blank page on my computer screen. I’m supposed to be writing a snarky piece about the manufactured outrage over the Starbucks red cups. But, with images of the devastation in Paris scrolling across the television, the idea that someone, anyone, would be upset over the color of a coffee cup seems infantile now. There are real problems in the world and that isn’t one of them.
Reactions to the bombing and shootings, predictably, have been mixed. In a stunning and gorgeous display of solidarity, many capital buildings, monuments and other important structures from around the world have been lit up with the colors of the French flag. Just as the heartbreak was a global phenomenon in the wake of 9/11, the world stood up Friday and said, “Aujourd’hui, nous sommes tous français.”
But not all reactions were as uplifting. Late Friday night, much of social media was abuzz with speculation as to who committed these atrocities and why. At the time of this writing, ISIS had taken responsibility. But even before they claimed the attack as their work, many, including some of our elected officials, took to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to deride not just extremism, but Islam itself. This type of rhetoric does not help, and likely will only exacerbate the problem.
To be clear, people are absolutely correct to be outraged; that isn’t the issue. The issue is where they direct their anger. Our leaders, who set policies and examples, need to separate the radical extremists from the other nearly 2 billion peaceful individuals on the planet. We need to stop looking at radical Islamic extremism as if it is exemplary of all Muslims. We don’t look at the actions of the KKK as if they are exemplary of Protestantism or the IRA as indicative of Catholicism, or either as representative of Christianity as a whole.
At a time when young people all across this country are raising their voices against racial injustices here at home, when families are fleeing their own homelands looking for refuge, when people are dying of preventable diseases and hunger, we need to embrace each other with love and understanding. I am not so naïve as to think the world’s problems can be solved with pie in the sky handholding. On the contrary, I understand that evil misdeeds should not go unanswered. But violence only begets violence.
And so, I am reminded of the outrage over the coffee cups. If people could put half as much emotion into their responses to the real problems facing this world as they do silly things like that, we might eventually get somewhere. Peace, love and understanding is not just an ideal that died with the ’60s; it is something that we should all strive towards everyday. That much is as clear now as it ever was.