Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What Can I Do About ISIS? In Honor of Robin Williams.

Thank you to Nicole Grimes for designing this title image for me!  When she asked what the main message was, I told her what I have been telling myself:  "Stop being afraid and wishy-washy.  Commit to educating yourself and making a difference." Fear gets in the way of so much action.  Fear that what you learn will go to waste, and what you do won't make a difference.  So that's what I want for myself and for anyone who reads this to get out of this article ... a conviction that it's time to STOP BEING AFRAID.  Stop being afraid to commit to make a difference.  Thanks again Nicole!!!

It's work to think about tough things.  And this blog is about my work.  Most of the time that means that I'll be writing about parenting (as I am currently a stay at home mom), teaching (my profession prior to my son's birth), or formative experiences in my life (shaping what I do as a mom and as a teacher).  But my work spans more than that.  Work is often stuff I know I should do but don't always want to do.  Because if I'm honest, most of the time I'd rather look up recipes on Pinterest that I never plan on cooking or read the "Twenty-Five Cutest Cats in the World" list that my sister's friend's ex-husband's cousin posted on facebook.  And most definitely, there are times when I simply don't want to think about things that I really should think about.  So, I'm claiming it as my work to think about those things.

It's amazing how social media has so much control over what we think about.  For the past twenty-four hours, the topic most posted about on my Facebook news feed was by far the death of Robin Williams.  This morning my husband told me a friend posted on Facebook that she was sad that he had died.  "Just like you were last night," he told me.  And I was sad.  I didn't know Robin Williams personally and don't know how he lived his life, but from what little I knew about him, I respected him.  I attributed to him intelligence, compassion and depth.  I even felt affection for him.  How can you not when his personalities soak into your head from childhood?  I couldn't get them out of my head.  I doubt I'll ever be able to watch one of his movies with the same glee again.

And while our country is processing his loss....  there's all this stuff going on in the Middle East.

I've been reading a lot about ISIS lately.  The first time I heard about what is most recently going on in Iraq was when I watched this video linked from Facebook about how ISIS is systematically beheading Christian children.  Over the next couple of days leading up until now, I've been trying to form an educated opinion about what's going on.  I watched President Obama's address to find out what the government is doing about this, and listened to the President talk about targeted air strikes and providing humanitarian aide.  I did several Google searches to find out whether or not there was truth to the claim about ISIS beheading children.  I read about ISIS using social media to cause terror.  And when people posted links on Facebook to articles crying out for Americans to get educated about what's going on outside our borders, I re-shared the articles. This was my most recent post commenting on one of them:
"I normally try to avoid politically charged Facebook posts, but I think I agree with this article's sense of urgency in putting troops in Iraq and flooding the area with humanitarian aide. What is happening out there is too much evil to let go on. I don't think we can feel as a nation that we are acting with integrity unless we move to stop ISIS. We don't have any excuses to sit on the fence. Let's get our military in there."  Link:  Read & Share Jay Sekulow's latest Fox News article: How long will US wait to save Iraq's Christians from extinction? http://fxn.ws/XXNrsc
As I pressed the "Share" button I started thinking more about what I could do.  I didn't think I had many options except to educate myself and try to grow awareness.  So, I even tweeted and pinned that same article.  Every little bit counts, right?

My friend Kallie was moved to share some of thoughts about how Facebook was filled with comments on Robin Williams' death even considering everything going on in Iraq.  She wrote,
"I'm upset people in the US seem to be more aware that an actor killed himself than that thousands of innocent people are being killed. Do we as Americans have blinders on? Do we just choose to remain ignorant? Is it just easier for us to pretend it's not happening so we can live our lives?"

And I started typing a comment, but then it occurred to me that I had more that I wanted to work out in my head that would fit in the space of the comment bar.  So here I am, typing up this blog post and thankful that I have a medium to get my thoughts out.  People are so affected by Robin's death.  For all of the terror caused by ISIS you'd think people should be proportionately more effected, but the passion is not there.  Why not?  I'm not saying people shouldn't be affected by Robin passing away.  But if that bothers us, why doesn't what ISIS is doing bother us so much more?

I'm conflicted.  I can feel my blood pressure rising, and part of me wants to vent and rant.  The other part of me, the logical part, wants to make a bullet point list to try to figure out why I think this is happening.  Maybe I'll do both.  Let's start with venting because I probably won't want to do it anymore after I make my logical list.

Seriously.  ISIS IS KILLING CHILDREN.  And from everything that I've read, it seems like this is closest to the Holocaust that we've ever been since that time.  WHY DON'T PEOPLE CARE?  If this were happening next door to us we'd get involved.  Aren't people on the other side of the world worth just as much as we are?  Why aren't we all writing to our senators, and to our President?  Why aren't all of us technologically savvy people filling up Twitter and Pinterest and Facebook with calls to action directed @PresidentObama and @TheJusticeDept?  What if - for a day - for a week - for however long it took to see us successfully #stopISIS - we posted nothing on social media except for calls to end this?  What would happen then?  I know your average stay at home mom to an infant can't do very much about the war on terror.  But we can be AWARE and we can EXPRESS OUR OPINIONS.  Why don't we?

Kallie wrote on Facebook how she had imagined what has been happening to children at the hands of ISIS happening to her beautiful little girl.  She wrote, "All I can picture is having [her] ripped from my arms crying & scared. Screaming for me to help her. Looking at me for comfort & all that can be done is watch while men rape her before killing her by painfully cutting off her little head."  As I searched yesterday for more information online, trying to find out what was real and what isn't -  what is being done and what isn't - trying to form an opinion and think about what I could do...  I had these images flash into my head, also.  My beautiful little son.  I couldn't get them out of my head.  I cried for their children, and for the anxiety thinking of it happening to my son.

But the next day, the images didn't plague me anymore.  Not me, with my beautiful son playing and smiling beside me.  I didn't feel like crying.  But families in Iraq will be crying for a long time.  For them, the pain won't go away until heaven.  I think that they won't be able to look anything or anyone without having images of their precious babies in that last ugly moment flash before their eyes.  I attributed compassion to Robin Williams.  Maybe hearing all of this was too much for him.

Bless this woman for her article entitled "Give me Gratitude or Give me Debt" for her exhortation to put on our "perspectacles" and be grateful for the abundance of blessings we have.  But it works the opposite way too.  If it is so hard to be thankful for the blessings that we have, it makes sense that it's hard to be filled with compassion at the sufferings that others have.  It's hard, but we should urge each other to fill ourselves up with compassion.  Let's put on our "perspectacles" and open our eyes to the sufferings of others.  Some have experienced losses that are too terrible to put into words.  We shouldn't stop at merely being thankful that we haven't experienced those losses.  We should reach out to those who are suffering.

So why doesn't our passion last?  It comes in fits and spurts.  I care about ISIS one day, and the next day I'm reading "Fifteen Adorable Rabbits Making Funny Faces" and and pinning a ton of closet organizing tips that I have no intention of actually following.  It all comes down to my work.  It's my job to choose to care, every day.  I don't think I've been doing a very good job of it.  What if we all chose to care?  Chose to choose compassion?  Tried to figure out what that would look like?

Another point I want to make.  I get so frustrated at all of the "hate speech" towards authority figures about what they are doing wrong or what they're not doing that they should be doing.  Especially as a Christian.  I'm not saying that you have to agree.  But show respect.  If we can't be decent to our own, how can we expect to have compassion to those on the fringe?

I'm trying to understand our government's position on what's going on in Iraq, and if I really was right to suggest that we should put combat troops back in Iraq.  That's a bold claim, and a very political one - something I'm nervous to do.  President Obama said while authorizing airstrikes and declaring intentions to support the Iraqi refugees:
"As Commander in Chief I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq.  And so even as we support Iraqis as they take the fight to these terrorists, American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.  The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.  However we can and should support moderate forces who can bring stability to Iraq.  So even as we carry out these two missions, we will continue to pursue a broader strategy that empowers Iraqis to confront this crisis."
I think that I understand the desire to not put combat forces in Iraq.  It makes sense that the best way to solve this problem would be to equip the Middle East to solve its own problems.  If we go in, fix things, and go out - what's to say that the fixes will keep?  Makes sense.  But, I still have doubts, and questions.  Are there really and truly "moderate forces" that we can support?   Are many lives being lost that if we went in, could be saved?  Are we giving ISIS the opportunity to grow in strength and numbers to the point that it may become unmanageable?

I don't want to say that I think we as a nation should be brave, because that would imply that what we are doing now is cowardly.  I don't think it is.  I want to give credit where credit is due, and our President and government officials have worked hard and long hours to figure this out.  I've only spent a few hours reading internet articles that may or may not be trustworthy.  But, my gut is telling me that we're not doing enough.

Maybe we need more gut.  The kind of passion that comes when you start something, but tends to fade as you grow used to horrific events and lose your shock.  I believe that we can choose to keep that fire going even as cynicism threatens to blow it out.  Just like married couples have to choose love daily to keep from growing apart, maybe compassion is something we have to daily choose, too, as we look towards our international brothers and sisters.

I could let my lack of knowledge and seeming lack of ability to do anything about the situation shut my brain and my heart down towards this issue, but I think that would be wrong.  I think that by learning about what's going on in the world, by becoming aware, and by shedding light - I think that I am doing something worthwhile.

Maybe my perspective, looking at things freshly - not having been immersed in it so long like our government officials have been - maybe it can shine light on muddy spot.  But maybe not.  Even so, I know that I can do things in the same way for days, weeks, even years - to have someone with a different perspective share something that makes me change for the better.  Like how when we were dog sitting and having a hard time keeping the dog away from our cat, my mom suggested ... stack two baby gates on top of each other.  Genius!  Why didn't I think of that simple step?!  And like how a few weeks I visited a friend after her husband lost his wallet.  They searched for hours.  They dumped out drawers, went through laundry, searched behind furniture, and even went through a full garbage can of disgusting things like moldy peaches.  He cancelled his credit cards but was frustrated that he'd have to drive without his license.  I showed up and wanted to look for them.  "I'm actually really good at finding things," I told them.  "I bet I can find it for you.  Did you check between the couch cushions?"

"You're more than welcome to try," my friend said, "but I really don't think you'll find them.  We tore up the whole apartment looking for them."  And of course they had looked between the couch cushions.  But they didn't look deep enough.  I used a butter knife to squeeze the fabric aside and shined a Flashlight app from my smart phone into the crack to make visible the leather edge of a wallet.  I was so excited and glad that I didn't have to eat my words about being good at finding things.

Maybe our government's lost its wallet.  Maybe a fresh pair of eyes to shine some light onto a dark spot they thought they already looked into can help.  Then again, maybe not.  But on the chance that it does and I can shine that light, I'm speaking out to say that I think that as a nation we should be concerned about what's going on in ISIS.

I still don't really know what to do, even after thinking about all this.

But what I do know, is this, that could keep me from going any further:
  • It's not fun to think about these things.  It's easier to ignore it.  And we come to the decision of inaction without even realizing we made the decision.
  • Getting involved causes fights.  It's natural for eyes to gloss over when reading anything "political" on social media.  People get mad and angry.  People shut down.  They may even de-friend you on Facebook.
And this, that pushes me forward:
  • I claim the responsibility to think about things that are hard to think about.  
  • I reject the 15 second attention span social media (despite its benefits) has caused us to often give to very serious issues.  
  • I commit to developing an educated opinion, to sharing it in respectful ways even despite opposition.
Somewhere in between passion and the fear of losing that passion as I was writing this blog entry I formulated a plan of action that while in and of itself won't do much, it will give me focus.  I agree with Kallie that it's unfathomable - emotionally, at least, because one can come up with all sorts of reasons why we as a nation don't care more - how one person's death can have more of a Facebook presence than the countless deaths caused by ISIS.  I think that if Robin Williams had anything to say on the matter, he would want us to get fired up about everything that's going on in the Middle East.  He would want us to do something.

So in honor of Robin Williams, this is what I am planning on doing:  For the rest of the week, I will educate myself, and to focus my efforts, I will think about what I'm posting on social media.  I will limit my public digital activity (Facebook, twitter, pinterest) to reflecting on justice issues and what our responsibilities are as citizens and as a nation to support those who are suffering.  Through this activity I want to remind myself every day to have compassion.  I want to use the technology available to me for what matters.  I want to cultivate compassion in myself, and I want to be a good model for my son.  If I don't act out on my convictions, how can I expect him to when he's older?

That's it for now.

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UPDATE #1:  This excellent article gives practical tips for what you can do immediately to help:  Crisis in Iraq - five things you can ACTUALLY do to help.  My suggestion?  Read it with a buddy - hold each other accountable to do these things!

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UPDATE #2:  My husband read this article and while he was quite encouraging also brought up a question: Why haven't I been concerned before about all the conflict in the Middle East?  Countries have been at war and killing themselves for a long time.  Maybe this time, he suggested, I could identify more with the persecuted group because they are Christians.  Maybe, I suggested, because children are involved.  ISIS' crimes seemed greater to be than what I have heard on the news lately.  But my husband made a good point and I want to question my heart.  Let the question but overwhelm me (which was NOT good intention but is what I see happen) but prompt me to choose to care more about what I have been ignoring.

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UPDATE #3:  This article gives good reason to question the claim of ISIS beheading children:  Factchecker - Is ISIS beheading children in Iraq?   I give thanks that there is room to doubt, for the families involved and for ISIS members themselves - if they are not as dark as it has seemed it might be easier for them to come back from the brink.  

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