Song of this Article: Smoke by Daughter
We can scarcely turn on the news today without seeing it plastered all over the headlines - the European refugee crisis, terrorism in Belgium, suicide bombings in Pakistan and Iraq, plane hijackings in Egypt, and ISIS seemingly making its way through Syria the same way I run through pizza - quickly and with no apologies.
It's difficult to reconcile what we see in the media with what we know to be factual. Despite what news source you watch or listen to, you are likely consuming an inherently biased form of the media. Even if you choose to watch what you perceive to be the most impartial piece of news, it is heavily influenced by regional standards and what they want you to hear and to be concerned about.
And while I'm not here to tell you what is or isn't true, I'm bout to drop you with some facts.
- There are over 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.
- While the numbers are sometimes disputed, experts estimate there are between 10,000 and 20,000 members of ISIS.
- Assuming there are 20,000 members of ISIS (if we include terrorist cells in outside countries), ISIS makes up .0000125% of the Muslim population.
- That means they make up .00000587% of the world population.
I'm not saying that ISIS is not a threat. ISIS is extremely powerful. Their use of the internet and social media is unique and they are the first organization of its kind to utilize technology in the way that they do. They are systematically committing genocide on thousands and thousands of people while the world stands by and watches. We saw the way that Nazi Germany dominated an entire population in a short period of time, so we cannot deny the power and strength of ISIS, however, their reach is far less than we believe it to be and what is portrayed in the media. We cannot live in fear.
The odds of dying in a terrorist attack are 1 in 25 million. To put that in perspective, the odds of winning the lottery are 1 in 14 million. You're more likely to die from a snake bite (1 in 3.5 million), or drown in your own bathtub (1 in 685,000) than to be killed by a terrorist.
I am lucky and count my blessings because I live in a country where being killed by a terrorist is not a part of my daily fears. Other people are not so fortunate, and sadly, it's a large number of people who face that terror every day when they wake up. We have immense white/western privilege that we can turn on our TV every morning and feel numb when we hear about a suicide bomber in Pakistan, but feel the pain when learning about a terror attack in Paris. We have a tendency to care about those who are like us, in culture, in mind, and in physical appearance. But there are millions who don't have that privilege.
And each day, I'm going to continue to count my blessings and not let a terror organization choose the way in which I live my life. Last I checked, worry did nothing for nobody. Fear essentializes us, limits our ability to think logically, causes us to say and feel hurtful things, and perpetuates an environment of anger. What they want is for us to be fearful. When we tremble, they win. In part because we are vulnerable, but also because a narrative of xenophobia has the ability to push the marginalized into the arms of a unified "community" : ISIS.
If we spend our lives inculcating into our hearts in minds everything that we hear on the internet and the news, we will absolutely kill ourselves. Instead of ISIS killing our bodies, they will be killing our souls. They will be taking from us what we so strongly value, our resilience, our resolve, our desire to do what is right and passion to make this world a beautiful place.
I've been working on a piece for a while in which I talk about how traveling killed my cynicism. The day I stepped foot in foreign soil for the first time, I was renewed. Traveling taught me that the world is a beautiful, soft, kind place. Most people aren't out to hurt you, and if we focus on a few bad apples, we will drive ourselves crazy. Turn your head away from the media, read books on the conflict by scholars, allow your heart to hurt for the 6.2 million innocent internally displaced persons in Syria, those dead in Brussels, and the child who will never see their mother again in Turkey. But don't allow those sentiments to force you behind a veil of ignorance and fear, the one that prevents us from reducing ISIS down to what they truly are: a perverse and genocidal distortion of a peaceful religion.
Do not allow them to commit genocide on our ability to think with reason and to live our lives with unapologetic passion. Stand up for what is right, but stand on top of your fear first.
That being said, be vigilant. The world is a beautiful place with wonderful people, but there are a few not-nice people out there, be they terrorists, murderers, muggers, or just grouchy old men that want to touch your butt on the metro. Don't let it change the way you travel or the way you see the world, but instead, the way you look after yourself. Make a conscious effort to look at your surroundings. Pick your head up from your phone. Look at the people around you. This won't only allow you to remain aware of what's happening near you, but also, to view the world and the beautiful people in it.
Whether your religious or not, send good vibes to the millions of people in the world to whom terrorism is a direct and eminent threat. They are suffering, and need prayers. But those evil individuals will not change the way I travel or see the world. I cannot and will not let them win.
*Just a note: I encourage all of you to read up on the Syrian conflict in modes other than the media. If you are curious about what's happening in the Middle East, I'm happy to share some great book titles with you that have helped shape my views on the crisis. However, as this is not the venue, if you are interested, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org