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The first explosions, a little past 9 o’clock in Paris last Friday night, reminded us with shrapnel and screams and gunfire of our world’s reality: Our world is rent with bloodshed and populated by people divided by hatred. Each night, the news tells us about a world marked by a simmering intolerance so quotidian that it has taken this tragedy in Paris to awaken our attention.
Our hearts break for Paris. They break for 129 Parisians, for 43 Lebanese, and for 18 Iraqis. They break for the millions of Syrian refugees, and for those displaced in Ukraine or the Democratic Republic of the Congo or in countries the world over. These issues are systemic, they are real, and all too often we find ourselves turning a blind eye when they do not strike home.
Three devastating hours in Paris have raised the stakes, for the Western world and for the United States in particular. The nightclubs and bars and theaters of Paris are not so different from those of London or New York or Washington, D.C. When it comes to ISIS, we know now that their interest in wreaking death and destruction knows no geographical confines.
This attack has personalized the threat, but it has also focused our perspectives. The United States must rethink its strategy for fighting violent extremism and terrorism and reconsider the commitments that it is willing to make going forward. It is therefore essential that the next president, whoever that may be, has a firm understanding of foreign affairs and a unwavering belief that the US should be actively involved with the outside world. But we should also think broader: Though ISIS may be in the news today, it is hatred and intolerance that are our real foes. Inhumanity must be fought anywhere and everywhere we see it, from the arrondissements of Paris to the refugee camps of Syria. However, fighting extremism from 35,000 feet in the skies above Iraq and Syria is no substitute for fighting extremism in the hearts and minds of people.
Rejecting intolerance and winning hearts and minds starts with our own. It would be deeply misguided—for presidential candidates, Harvard students, or anyone else—to allow our thirst for justice develop into a desire for misdirected vengeance. We have seen how Paris has responded, with strangers tweeting the hashtag #PorteOuverte to open their homes to others stranded far away from theirs. They responded to the worst in our world with the best, courageously offering to invite strangers into their homes at a time when gunmen were still at large.
We must remember too that ISIS does not represent Islam. It is distressing to see violent attacks against Muslim communities, or accusations made against Muslims. The murderers and perpetrators of the attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad defame the name of the religion they purport to represent, and Muslims—in France, in the United States, and in nations around the world—show every day the characteristics of true faith: Love, tolerance, and acceptance. Their hearts break too. Here at Harvard, let us never forget that.
As a nation, we must show resolve overseas and tolerance at home. As college students, all we can do is love. We cannot order troops into battle, but we can desperately seek to avoid falling into the trap of Islamophobia. We should strive to do as Paris has done, even amidst the chaos of a bloody and interminably dark night—to respond with tolerance, with love, with friendship, and with open doors. Today and always, we should be proud to say:
Nous sommes tous Parisiens.
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