Waving our flags
Two days ago in Paris bombs and shootings left more than 120 dead and a whole city in lockdown. I, like so many others, sat glued to my TV screen shaking my head at the atrocities unfolding in front of me. Three days ago I was praying for Burundi. A country most people have not even heard of. Burundi is currently a country being fractured with fear, the political landscape a fragile and slippery beast that keeps shape-shifting in a way that leaves its population scared and vulnerable. A contact in Burundi told me “here we go to church on a Sunday and murder our brothers on a Monday”. Yesterday I changed my Facebook profile picture to one with a French flag overlay, like many others a sign of solidarity. Last night I started to question my choice of flag.
Do not get me wrong, I am appalled by what has happened in France and by the wickedness that roams our world. We seem to be treading through particularly dark times. France is just one of many countries that has seen loss of life through terrorism or conflict this week though:
Beirut – 43 dead in a suspected ISIS attack. More would have died but it seems one young father saved countless lives by jumping on a second suicide bomber to detonate the bomb. This has now ‘made the news’ largely because of a Twitter trend.
Burundi – At least 240 people have been killed there since the political demonstrations began in April. This week the Belgium government advised its citizens to leave the country in fear of an impending civil conflict.
Israel and Palestine – Five have died in two countries that remain locked in their ongoing and terrible dance with one another.
Yemen – Conflict continues, at least 5,600 people have been killed in seven months of fighting in Yemen between the rebels and forces loyal to Yemen’s government.
Syria and Syrian refugees – Countless thousands continue to flee Syria. They flee the kind of violence that we are now witnessing in cities like Paris. For the Syrians this violence has become part of life.
I could go on quite easily. France feels closer to home though. It is geographically close to me, it is the country next door (I am an hour from Paris by plane and a day trip on the train is perfectly possible. I have friends that commute to Paris for work). It is close in terms of culture and way of life, an attack on Paris does not feel too far removed to an attack on London. I have friends from Paris, friends that grew up in Paris. I have been to Paris three times myself.
I am have been to Israel and Palestine too though. I have friends there. I have friends and colleagues working in Burundi, bravely trying to serve others while conflict hangs over their head like a black cloud that refuses to budge. I also have Lebonese friends. I am connected to so many places, as are many others. That is the kind of world we are in now – one where connectedness is common on a global rather than national or local scale. The question that comes to mind is ‘even if I didn’t have friends or connections in those places does it make the lives lost worth any less?’. The answer is an easy no and yet I find myself choosing to wave the French flag and conveniently leave other banners tucked away in the back of my mind.
Last night I reinstated my flagless profile picture on Facebook. Not because I do not stand in solidarity with the French but because I should stand in solidarity with all who lose their lives as a result of inequality and violence. I am not making a big statement – it is just impossible to cover my profile picture with flags and I have come to the conclusion I should not just be choosing one. Two people asked me today about the absence of my French flag. Do not think my lack of flag is a lack of compassion, rather I am lost in how to respond to what is going on in the world right now. I do #prayforParis but I also #prayforBeirut and #prayforBurundi and all the other hashtags I can throw at the darkness.
One flag I will fly, albeit metaphorically, is the flag for peace and love. Love has become one of those words that is under-rated. Considered to be a cheesy, greetings card catchphrase. Love is powerful though. Love is the one thing that can drive back the darkness. Love is perhaps what led Adel Termos to jump on a suicide bomber in Lebanon this week, killing himself and his young daughter but saving countless others. Love is what keeps some of my Burundian friends serving when they could be fleeing. Love is what drives us to pray on our knees for a world where we don’t wake up to terror. Love is what keeps the Syrian father awake at night as he protects his children that fall asleep to gunshots peppering the sky like firecrackers. You may not be able to see this flag on Facebook, they have not created an easy-click option for that overlay, but it is the flag I will proudly wave as I think it is the one thing the world needs right now and it is the only answer I can come up with.