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A response to the shocking horrors of _________

Dealing with the horror in Paris the only way I know how.

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Update: It's only been four months, but this is relevant again. To our friends and readers in Brussels, our thoughts are with you.


This is not football. This does not speak for everyone on this blog, or this network, or anything like that. I can't do either right now. I can't give a damn about football, and I certainly don't have the power to speak for anyone else right now.

This is about yet another senseless, stupid, mind-numbing tragedy. Another moment of vile hatred. Another moment in which the absolute worst of humanity is on display. Talking about anything but Paris right now seems impossible. Thinking about anything else seems impossible.

And yet, writing about Paris seems almost as unfathomable. But when I'm faced with something like this, my natural disposition is to write. I need some way to process this, and talking about it with people feels too raw. So I will write.

I live in Washington, DC. Fourteen years ago, and three years before I arrived here, DC was one of the cities targeted in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Since then, the United States has increased its engagement in global conflict and resentment of the country that I live in has grown. When I moved here to attend university in 2004, one of my high school teachers asked why I would go to a city in which another attack was simply a matter of "when," not "if." I didn't have a good answer at the time. Instead it was mostly the brazenness borne of being young and stupid. "Sure, something may happen, but it probably won't get me."

Now, eleven years later, my answer has changed. I live here because I want to. I live here because I am getting a PhD in this city. I live here because I love this city and would be happy to stay here for years. I live here because this is what I've come to call home.

But always in the back of my mind is that thought that it's "when" not "if." Washington, DC is still the capital of one of the world's biggest targets. A nation loathed for its often ham-fisted involvement in world politics, and one that is an open enemy of most terrorist organizations. The simple fact that DC has not been the victim of another terrorist attack in more than fourteen years is frankly astonishing.

When I heard what had happened in Paris, I was waiting to meet my girlfriend on a platform at a metro stop. I didn't panic. Something that happens in Paris is unlikely to immediately impact me here. But God knows global governments pay attention to what is happening elsewhere and respond accordingly. I started looking around to see if there was a heightened police force, and there didn't seem to be. A couple of transit police were on the platform for a while, but that's pretty common. Who knows, though? Realistically speaking, something probably changed in terms of security here. Maybe we're just good enough at carrying on that we don't even notice.

But think about that reaction for a second, though. Something happened in Paris, and I immediately looked for the ripple effect six time zones away in Washington, DC. This is a world in which information travels instantaneously. A world in which cause and effect happens at a global level, and it does so almost faster than we can fathom it happening. We're a world that seems as divided as at any time in history, and yet we are more closely connected than we have ever been.

When I heard the news, I thought of you, the friends I've made through this site. And I laughed at myself a little. When the Boston Marathon bombings happened two years ago, I got a text from my mother asking if I was okay. I called her and let her know that of course I was because I was 395 miles from Boston. Most of you are in Birmingham, and my first thought was "I hope this doesn't ripple outwards and impact any of my friends." The distance between Birmingham and Paris? 306 miles. I get it now, Mom.

I wondered next, "Do we have any readers in Paris?" Given the reach of this site (and the huge French influx to the team lately), it seemed likely that we do. "Is there any way I can reach out? Anything I can do?" And of course the answer was "no." How could I? I'm not sure which of you live in Paris. I couldn't do anything. I was an ocean away and all I could do was constantly refresh my twitter feed in horror. We're so damn connected now. I care for the people who read this site deeply. But I don't know most of you. The empathy I feel for you is the same as that which I feel for the citizens of Paris. My heart breaks. I can see, read about, and feel your pain. And yet I can do nothing.

And the longer I read through twitter, the more I filtered out the bullshit, the more I got down to the raw emotion, I saw that same thought played out over and over again. This deep, existential pain that comes from the fact that we, seemingly, can do nothing. There have been cries for peace, and God yes, please. But looking at the history of humanity paints a grim picture for the prospects of peace. Random, heartless, horrifying violence is probably something with which we will always have to cope.

But while we probably can't fix this, that doesn't mean we won't try. We can be smarter, better human beings. We can make this world that we live in a place that is more accommodating. We can use these connections that we have now to help deaden the pain and to try, however futilely, to make things better.

We won't achieve that by hating. We won't achieve that by blaming Muslims, or Islam, or any broad group of people. Muslims are hurt by what happened in Paris as much as is the rest of the world. Statistically speaking, Paris is a city that is 10-15% Muslim. As I write this, the death toll is reported as being around 140. In public places. The chances that at least one of those victims was Muslim are pretty high.

And if this was, in fact, an act of ISIS, that still does not give us license to blame an entire religion. On Thursday, ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in a predominantly-Shia part of Beirut. At least 43 people died and more than 200 were wounded. This is not Muslims waging war on the world, this is a group of hate-filled people killing senselessly in the name of a religion they call Islam but which is unrecognizable to that practiced by the vast majority of Muslims. It should be patently clear that hatred does not solve this. We are all equally impacted by this horror and others like it.

We might achieve a betterment of the current situation by connecting. By recognizing the situations that drive people to the depths of madness. By empathizing with the millions who have been exiled from their homes by precisely the same people who attacked Paris. By using this miraculous connection we have, the one that makes instant communication possible, to build some sort of understanding amongst people. By doing whatever the opposite of hatred is.

Every day that I live in DC, or you live in Birmingham, or London, or Manchester, or Liverpool, or Paris, or almost literally anywhere else on this planet, we run the risk of dying in a horrific fashion. Dying at the hands of people hell-bent on breaking us. But we carry on. We hold our heads high and get on with it. We do it because we love where we live. We do it because we don't love where we live but we don't have a choice. We do it because we refuse to be paralyzed by fear.

But as you carry on, look around. Everyone else is doing it too. Everyone else has their head held high and they're soldiering on in a world that, increasingly, looks to have gone to shit. We're all in this thing together, so perhaps it's time we started acting like it. When you next go to Villa Park, be kind to the people around you. When you get together at a pub to watch Villa take on Everton after the break, try to get to know the person next to you. Make some connection.

Stopping this madness is an uphill battle, and one that we very well could lose. But if we fight like mad to make these connections, to try to stem the tide of crappiness, maybe we can make a dent.

To my friends here and elsewhere, let's remember that the vast majority of the world is going through the same shock and pain that we are. There's no need to be adversarial. And to my friends in Paris, you have both my prayers and my love. I know you will defy logic and somehow come out of this stronger. And hopefully we'll all, finally, be with you.