I know the outpouring of outrage and grief for the attacks in Paris are well-meaning and absolutely justified; the terror must be palpable. Living in New York City, riding the subways, family and friends of friends in the NYPD and maneuvering a city that has seen terror firsthand, reminds me that I live in an unpredictable world shaped by the whims and loci of terror.
BUT… I must… I must explain my hesitance to use the hashtag “prayforparis” or to emblazon my profile picture with the French flag because if I’m going to use my last reserves of faith, I can’t help but wonder why, just why, the daily onslaught of terror around the world doesn’t also create this public promulgation of prayer?
Prayer seems not to shed light on the daily western media bias that slathers on coverage of terrorism on Western shores like mayonnaise on a bologna sandwich but offers very little context to attacks on “foreign” shores. In April 2015, students in a Northern Kenya university were held hostage for 15 hours by Al-Shabab extremists. Most of the 147 killed were students and of those, most were new converts to Islam. Less than 24 hours prior to the Paris attacks, 43 people were killed and 200 injured in Beirut, Lebanon, when suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowded shopping area in a heavily Shiite neighborhood. ISIS claimed responsibility. Some people have pointedly asked on social media, “Where the Facebook safety check for Lebanon be at?” On the same day as the Paris attacks, Baghdad was hit with a series of bombings in different Shiite neighborhoods where a total of 26 died with scores injured.
Where are the prayers for these people?
Does posing such a question sound heartless and perhaps tone deaf? If so, why does it? Where’s the rage for the Lebanese? Where’s the grief for the Kenyans? Where are the Iraqi flags for temporary profile pictures?
On when it comes to matters of domestic terrorism, we don’t even utter the “t” word to describe the daily terror some people feel because they exist in the margins. #mizzou #charleston #BlackLivesMatter Prayer will not explain away the often unintentional erasure of the lives of non-White people in the face of acts of terror. Why does Paris seem to matter more?
Prayer will not explain to most people who are vilifying all Muslims (and in some terrifying cases, also justifying violence against them), that ISIS does not represent Muslims. #MuslimsareNotTerrorists Prayer will not help my students who have to question whether they will wear their hijab in public. Prayer will not help them contextualize how decontextualized their hijab is. What’s the difference between a Catholic nun and a woman who chooses to wear hijab or the ideological differences between taking your man’s name and wearing a veil? Prayer does not give the rights of a French Muslim student to wear hijab in state schools. Prayer does not bring back the displaced and the dead in Aleppo and Homs.
Prayer does not complicate issues. Prayer does not break binaries that make people feel that one religion is better than the other. Prayer will not analyze how ISIS was created by the destabilization of Iraq when the US and Britain decided to invade it. Prayer will not explain how American consumerism makes us complicit in armed conflicts because we love cheap gasoline. Prayer will not explain the hashtag.
So, please excuse me if I refrain from prayer for Paris. It is not a sign of a maladaptive lack of empathy.
Prayer does not stop terrorism.
If I’m going to pray today and tomorrow and for the rest of my life, I will pray for people to speak for peace, to fight for peace, and to encourage others to do the same, every day of their lives.