Last week a series of attacks by Islamist extremist groups took over news waves as death tolls rose and reports of the gruesome destruction left in the wake of these cowardly terrorists grew by the hour. First, these attacks in Lebanon were reported Thursday evening. Foreign sympathy for the plight of displaced Syrians has grown worldwide but not as much is said of the brave countries neighboring this war-torn place and courageously intent on fighting against the destructive force calling itself ISIS. These terrorists claimed responsibility for the Lebanon attack against a market town housing opposing Hezbollah forces and which killed dozens and wounded hundreds.
The next day a coordinated attack took place against several public spaces in Paris, including a concert hall where hundreds were taken hostage. These attacks led to a death toll in the hundreds and has led to worldwide support for the loss of life in France.
Many of my friends have expressed heartache because they have visited Paris. Others have lived there and made friendships that make this ordeal more traumatic. A few expressed concern for Muslim families that they know and love, worried that terrorists representing their religion will create discord in their lives.
Fourteen years ago, a week after the September 11 attacks in New York, I flew to England to serve a proselyting mission for my church. I spent every day visiting various neighborhoods, sometimes knocking on doors, sometimes talking to people in town centers, discussing beliefs in God, asking people about their goals in life or their vision of their purpose on the earth. During this time I was repeatedly given sympathetic encouragement because of the recent terrorist attacks. People of all faiths, all nationalities, all cultures, figuratively (and sometimes literally) put their arms around me to acknowledge the horror of any group that would perpetrate such deeds. One particular group stands out in my mind: I met many Muslim families who would invite me into their homes, share their food, and express deep apologies for the horrible acts by the extremists of their faith. They were anxious to explain that they did not feel the same as these terrorists and we should in no way allow these atrocities to define the tenets of their faith. I learned about their devotion to God and family, things that I also held sacred. We had plenty of obvious differences but also more similarities than I had previously recognized.
Since last weeks’ attacks I have seen ugly expressions of a desire for retaliation. But surprisingly those have been less in number than the desire to express love and concern first for the loss of life. I have been encouraged that most people are inherently good and want to extend goodness to others. The strength of nations, even the whole world, will be greater as we look to our similarities. We stand for families, we stand for faith, and we stand for freedom. As the US Declaration of Independence states, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” My prayer is that we seek to defend life & liberty among all nationalities and seek to promote policies that protect the families and freedoms of all.