Yesterday, waking to the news of the attacks on the Brussels airport and metro system, I felt outrage and despair at the indiscriminate killing of innocent people. So wrong and horrible and tragic. I thought of my childhood friend Vincent who is from Belgium, currently living in Nairobi, with a girlfriend who works in the UN system. My friends group from Mozambique came to mind, so many of whom live and work in the EU. I thought back to the Paris attacks, to San Bernardino, Boston, Madrid, London, 9/11.
When attacks feel close to home (or are in our backyards) we take notice. We are put on edge, we feel fear, we change our Facebook profiles to be flags in solidarity, we check in as 'safe' but often feel anything but. The message seems to be that the terrorists are always ready, always a step ahead, will always catch us by surprise.
I know there have been attacks just this past week in the Ivory Coast and in Turkey. Around the time of the Paris attacks there was also Lebanon and Iraq. And of course the countless other bombings that happen throughout the Middle East and Africa - suicide and otherwise - not to mention the drones and operations and refugee crisis and political chess game.
And yet those form a blur in my mind, even though as a global citizen deeply concerned about our world, I don't want them to. I see the news and lament about how terrible it is, and then go on about my day. It's easy to pretend it's not happening when it's far away. Easy to believe it's about "those people" and maintain the illusion that we are not connected, involved, responsible.
I think of my friend Dena who is Assyrian-Canadian and the only person in my midst who is consistently vocal about how hypocritical our Western position is. I'm not talking the obligatory re-post of some article that says "There's shit happening in these other places, too! Solidarity with ___________________ (fill in the blank to choose location we likely can't find on the map yet are financing weapons for and bombing on the regular)." No, my friend Dena actually goes there and criticizes from a human standpoint, showing mothers holding dead children and other un-ignorable losses of innocent life. She has opened my eyes to what happens in "those places" (and in Iraq in particular, because that's where her family is from). It feels real, personal, connected. So different from what you read in the news.
We need more of these connections and real conversations. How diverse are our circles? Do you know anybody from Iraq or Syria or Yemen or Palestine? Do you know any locals or expats living in the Middle East or Africa? Have you ever traveled to these places? Do you know anybody in the military who has served in these places? Do you know anybody who is Muslim? Do you know any refugees? Do you know anybody who is young and unemployed? Do you know anyone in politics? Do you know anybody who has been directly impacted by an attack?
Useful questions for home issues, too:
Do you know anybody who supports Trump? Do you know anybody in Flint, Michigan? Do you know anybody who depends on public assistance to survive? Do you know any billionaires? Do you know anyone who is homeless? Do you know anyone who has been incarcerated? Do you know any recent immigrants? Do you know anyone who loves their guns? Do you know anyone who has witnessed a mass shooting? Do you know anyone who has been impacted by police violence? Do you know any police officers? Are you friends with anyone of a different race than your own? Do you know anyone who has suffered racism?
The basic idea being: Do you know what it's like to walk in another's shoes? How do those realities shape our political sphere? Who has power and a voice, and who does not? Do we have any common ground at all in our differences or are we destined to fight it out tooth and nail, across an ever-widening chasm?