Brother against brother, cousin against cousin? by Jean Marie Keenan-Johnston

If anyone else who’s reading this has been experiencing the same things on Facebook as I have, then they’ve seen a flurry of posts, videos and articles shared about what else but the recent events in Paris and its aftermath.  The loss of life, especially so vicious, unexpected and on such a grand scale, is so terribly difficult to wrap one’s head around.  I’ve done my absolute best to keep the news off every screen in this house so that my two very innocent children could avoid catching a glimpse at the situation.  If I couldn’t figure out how this could happen, how “human beings” could have so little regard for human life, then how could a six and seven-year-old possibly understand all of this?

In the days following the attacks, more and more posts came across my newsfeed…debates on Muslims and how they should be treated, people touting all Muslims were radicals, arguments about whether or not refugees should be allowed to enter our country and what state governors were already denying them access.  It seemed like after only moments of prayers shared and grief felt, colors shown on Facebook photos supporting the victims in Paris, not even enough time to even catch our breath and attempt to feel safe again, a political storm erupted and brought with it a huge web of issues tangled so tightly it was hard for any parent…I’ll admit, this parent…to figure out what our own fears and opinions were.  I did my best to share “both sides” on my own wall because that was how I was feeling.  Videos showing both sides, articles showing both sides, replying to posts without judgment or disagreement.  Middle ground is where I stood and I was quite clear about that in all I shared of my beliefs.  I feared for the safety of my children, and I wanted whatever could offer any guarantee, however great or small, that was possible for their safety to be the result of the decisions made by those in charge.

This post is not about any of that.  I’m not writing to share my opinions on whether or not all Muslims are the enemy.  (However I do have to take a moment to be very honest and say I’m not a bigot, and I’m not a hateful person.  I do not blame anyone for the actions in Paris, New York, Washington D.C. except those who were truly responsible.  Take what you want from that without me adding anything preachy.)  I’m not pushing for refugees to be kept out or for the rush to get them in our borders.  I’m not fighting for the Middle East to be devastated by one grand scale nuking mission that would rid our world of the problem once and for all, and I’m not saying military attacks are a bad thing.  What is striking me hardest as the different perspectives begin to settle within my head, the different opinions I’m seeing from my Facebook friends…siblings, cousins, friends, school community, acquaintances and more…is how PEOPLE are treating PEOPLE.  Maybe this is going to sound preachy in the end, but it is what it is.  I read posts every day that amaze me.  I’ve seen people who regularly post about living very Christian lives with messages of acceptance suddenly sharing messages of hate when they read posts they disagree with.  The people who clearly weren’t bigots before are giving me a very different impression of their beliefs now.  (I’m not labeling people I know.  That’s definitely not the purpose of this post.  But it’s been many decades since the civil rights unrest started within our own country.  And we all know what a bigot is.  It’s not difficult to define the word, so therefore it’s quite easy to know when somebody is acting like one whether you’re being judgmental or not.)  It’s quite obvious they are so quick to immediately jump to hateful conclusions when I offer a different perspective in my comments from their own, and they come back the next day telling me, yes, you’re right, I shouldn’t have said that because now that I look at their words and your ideas I see that was not their intention.  If they did not have hate within their hearts clouding their judgement would they have jumped the gun and reacted in the way they did, so quick to say they hate that individual and what they stand for?  They chose to read the words looking for negativity rather than seeing the positive that could exist within the post.  Others repeatedly post about strictly liberal vs. conservative.  I’ve watched others shave their friends’ lists down daily as they post about ridding themselves of anyone who disagrees with their viewpoint.  Granted they had an accepting, loving message to share when they discussed how we as Americans should accept the refugees without question or delay, but it struck me that while they were fighting for the positive actions of helping these people they never met they were writing off the ones who were on their friends’ lists for a reason…because there was some form of relationship between them that connected them in the first place.

The whole thing has made me think about the Civil War.  During that war, one of the toughest issues people had to come to terms with was that it was brother against brother, cousin against cousin, as the North fought the South.  Cyber space is in a way perpetuating the same sort of thing, at least in my eyes, letting current events tear apart relationships and putting the focus on all of the arguments instead of helping us work toward solutions.  It’s certainly not helping that Presidential candidates and other politicians and an irresponsible media are fanning the fires, but it looks like we as a group of American citizens don’t need a whole lot of help creating a deeper and deeper divide among us.

Brother against brother isn’t going to get us very far.  Part of the radicals’ power comes in fear.  It’s hard to not be afraid after watching news reports about bombs and beheadings, and that’s why they choose to act that way.  They know the human condition will cause all of us to be appalled, they know we’ll be afraid, and they know they will get the attention they’re looking for.  But another very scary part of the equation is that they are letting us divide ourselves when we can so easily write each other off as some of us have.  Facebook friends’ lists may just be “Facebook” but for many it still represents lost relationships.  If our focus continues to be on disagreements that divide us, then how will we rally to keep our families safe and our country stable against further attacks?  If we can’t pull together, then in a way, the enemy has already come closer to winning without even striking on American soil.

I promised I wouldn’t be preachy.  Hopefully I kept that promise.  But I just had to put this out there because of how it’s hit me and stuck with me, and I wonder if anybody else has noticed how divided we’ve become when it’s more important than ever to be strongly connected.  I’ve been worried about my children and the rest of my loved ones since I saw how many innocent lives were lost, people who were doing things we ourselves do here on the other side of the ocean every day without a single thought about it.  Sports events, dinner out, a date night at a concert with our significant other.  Any of us could have fallen the way those people in Paris did.  I’m not afraid of so much more.  If friends can’t remain friends because of different beliefs, then maybe this nation is moving into a much deeper abyss than any of us ever expected.  I’m not sure what’s more scary…what the radicals could do to our country ad its citizens or what we will do for them to help in our own destruction as we continue to attack each other.  One thing is clear…we need to find a way to remain more strongly united, and we need to get there quickly.