Tuesday, March 24, 2015

ancient roads and portals

Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks.

What ISIS Really Wants, Graeme Wood for The Atlantic

The news is full of many foreign and sinister names in recent months--recent years, rather-- ISIS, Boko Haram, etc. Just over a month ago now, ISIS decapitated twenty-one prisoners on the shores of the Mediterranean. Remember? Just one month ago. And yet, how often do we think of such events?

What I loathe and love the most about the world is that we must necessarily move on: yes it's awful, we cry. We pray. We are scared witless. But life must continue. After two weeks, more or less, our media channels move on to other topics. Not because they want to distract us with other stories, but more because the human heart cannot suffer abstracts for so long. The reality of our daily lives presses upon us, and demands our attention. There may be evil inundating Libya, but there are children to feed and tuition to pay, and there is the man panhandling in the subway. There is too much life surrounding us to be too weighed down by death across an ocean. Also, Libya is a place of the Other. It is all, you know, over there somewhere, we say, with a vague wave of our hands, betraying our utter ignorance of Middle Eastern and North African geography. We have never been to these places. They are all desert, right? Like Lawrence of Arabia and Jesus of Nazareth and Homeland? They are places that speak strange tongues. They are decidedly Other.

Two facts, however, can break down this barrier of Otherness, and bring the evil closer to home. Firstly, these people who have died share a common faith with many of us. Naturally, we think: what if I were there in their shoes? What would have happened to me? Our blood turns to ice for a second in our veins as we imagine ourselves, through nothing more than chance and the accident of birth, born in a land where we might have been among the twenty-one to die. It seems unfair. That we have only been spared through fate. Guilt mingles with the ice in our blood, and we can hardly swallow for a few moments. The moment passes, and we are eager to forget these thoughts and return to the safe home of our familiar world here.

Secondly, if, spurred by our utter ignorance of Mediterranean geography, we Google a map of Libya's location, we notice that hanging above the large landmass is the small boot of Italy. Accustomed to our comfortable buffer of the Atlantic, we are shocked and petrified to see the small sliver of blue that separates the blood-stained beaches of Libya with the verdant landscape of Southern Italy. And we are terrified, because Italy is not the Other. Italy is Us. We have Italian last names; we grew up admiring Italian art; we are descendants of Italians; we have studied abroad in Italy, or made pilgrimages there with our youth groups in high school; we have Italian grandmothers and watch Italian films. We may be thousands of miles from Italy, but it is connected to us in a deep way. Our bones freeze at the thought of black flags waving over Rome.

Thus, these facts make ISIS impossible to forget, and just shove into the compartment of our memories where we have shoved all facts about The Middle East and Terrorism since the Arab Spring. This is not just a continuation of the perpetual unrest that has plagued the beautiful heart of the globe we call the Middle East for millennia without end. This is something different.

There are too many good, ordinary people in the United States who are unaware of the global forces that are rapidly moving our world. I am torn, because there is nothing more powerful in the face of evil than to continue to seek good. Perhaps, for us ordinary folk, there is nothing we can do, beyond pursuing justice in our cities, seeking reform in our education systems, working for beauty in the stories we tell and art we share. But, at some point, there must be a concentrated effort towards an active stopping of the evil.

My sister and I visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which is one of the most moving, reflective experiences one can find in the hectic Manhattan. As I walk through the painstakingly detailed, beautifully curated exhibits, I feel an overwhelming and urgent movement in my heart: this must not happen again. How could this have happened in the first place? What response does it demand from me? How can our country become more of the good place that we wish it to be, and less of the power-hungry monster we could too easily become?

As I walk out of the museum, I feel that I must tell stories. I must tell as many stories as I can possibly fit into my head and spill out onto the page. I must tell stories about this day, about the days that followed, about the days that lead to them. I must tell stories that can grab people's hearts, that can shape someone's imagination, that can provide them with a new way of seeing the world, that can help them find the hero inside of themselves, that can show them where the light shines when all seems dark. Stories that stare evil straight in the face. Stories that know that Truth, while complicated, is more powerful than the most elegant lies. Stories that embrace the disaster of the world, and insist on the goodness of the human heart, despite all the crookedness that corrupts it.

The Cross is the most radical expression of God's unconditional love, as he offers himself despite all rejection on the part of men, taking men's "no" upon himself and drawing it into his "yes"
--Benedict XVI

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