My Facebook feed is filled with profile pictures backed by the French flag. I have been asked to like “Pray for Paris” and follow #peaceforparis. We want to help. We want to do something. And while I find the constant parade of altered profile pictures a bit annoying (do I have to “like” all the changed pictures?), I understand the desire to act. But how? Is a FB picture change remotely meaningful? Shouldn’t we expect more of ourselves?
For most of my life, I have shied away from writing about politics. It almost seemed like bad manners to take a strong political stand, and I was worried that friends with different viewpoints would react negatively. And, in recent years, I haven’t wanted to expose myself to the frequently horrible commentary on the Internet.
However, to anyone of my age who understands these feelings or who thinks that discussing politics is somehow wrong or overly controversial, I think it’s time to stop playing it safe. We members of the over 50 set owe it to our children and to ourselves to start speaking out, because what’s happening these days – ISIS, al-Qaeda, terrorist attacks, increasing numbers of mass shootings – is intensely scary. So, here are my thoughts, and I encourage each of you to speak out as well; among the benefits of age should be a lack of fear, an ability to understand nuance and a desire to leave the world better than we found it.
Demagoguery will not get us anywhere
As someone whose family was touched deeply by the Holocaust, the idea of branding people as dangerous because of their religion or ethnicity is anathema. We’ve been down this road before and it was truly ugly. Sometimes it’s not easy to resist the temptation to blame an entire religion, especially in light of recent events, but each of us should try to maintain a sense of perspective and balance. It’s wrong to blame everyone who practices a religion for the actions of some; it does not reflect reality and frankly, it’s not a particularly effective strategy.
We need to know more
I’ll be the first to admit it. I don’t know much about Muslim sects or ideology. But if we are ever to change hearts and minds, we need to do some hard work, not just rely on easy FB fixes. We need to understand the various strands in the Islamic religion and what motivates the terrorists. So, I have a simple proposition. I think each of us should reach out to our priests and rabbis and religious and community leaders and say we want them to sponsor public dialogues about Islam. Why are some people using Islamic texts as a basis for heinous acts, while others tell us the religion is being misrepresented? We should reach out to moderate Muslims to find out about their beliefs and support those who eschew violence and terrorism (and labeling every Muslim in the country a potential threat is not the best way to encourage moderates to speak out). And we should demand that our media print, post or produce stories about these meetings and forums, rather than going straight for sensationalism.
Be open and resist labels
I’m fairly liberal politically, but I also have areas in which I’m increasingly intransigent. I have no problems with electronic spying (Edward Snowden is not a hero of mine), and I would even support “boots on the ground” in Syria if I thought we knew which groups to support. But, as the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants, I feel strongly that we should not reflexively reject Syrian refugees – our country is much more vibrant because of generations of hard-working, innovative and creative immigrants. I suspect many of you are like me; you generally espouse one political viewpoint, but have areas where you differ. We need to encourage those internal schisms. Being open to new ideas and thoughts is a way to keep growing and thinking. Blindly spouting dogma and vitriol will not lead to solutions.
We have to work together
If there has ever been a time that people of good faith must join together, it is now. So, try and find common ground with people of different political persuasions. Listen to the solutions of others before making judgments. Recognize that nuance and complexity may be required, not just slogans and prejudice. And learn as much as possible about the beliefs that underlay terrorism, so we can defeat it.
I guess I always thought that playing it safe was a good strategy, because it kept me under the radar and meant I didn’t offend friends or family. However, I think now is the time to stop simply changing our FB pictures, and speak out and take action. Because somehow playing it safe doesn’t feel so safe anymore.
Tira Harpaz is a graduate of Princeton University and Fordham Law School. She was formerly a Senior Attorney at Davis Polk & Wardwell and she is currently the founder and president of CollegeBound Advice, an independent college counseling firm. She blogs for Huffington Post and a number of other publications.