Basic Human Rights

I’ve read that a lot of people are praying for, sending thoughts to, supporting Paris in the aftermath of its recent tragedy. But I think it needs to be about more than just what happened in Paris this weekend. It needs to be about recognizing that there are evil and terrifying things in this world, that violence and murder are extraordinarily sad and terrible and overwhelming and happening constantly.

The terrorist attacks in Paris remind us that violence happens in our world on a daily basis. It makes visible what is easy to ignore in our safe and peaceful lives. Every day people are dying in war and terrorist attacks and seemingly senseless acts of violence, in numbers that make Paris just another case. The massacres have been adding up this year: 43 in this September alone. A search online told me that a massacre is defined as five or more unarmed people being killed at a time. That means at least 215 people died in massacres in September.

But the numbers are far worse than simply “five or more”: 2,000 people in a Nigerian village in January; 147 in a Kenyan school in April; 143 in Syria in May; 42 in Mexico in May; 38 on a Tunisian beach in June; 43 in Turkey in July and another 105 in October; 40 in Beirut, Lebanon, one day before Paris; and just days before Paris, 200 children in Syria were lined up and executed. All in 2015, and these are just the larger ones that made the Internet news. Plus, they don’t include smaller scale massacres or those in schools, churches, city streets, people’s homes, etc. And these numbers only include the dead, not the injured, traumatized, or mourning.

It is the pervasiveness of the violence that rocks me when I look at these numbers: it’s everywhere, in great numbers. No one is exempt; no one is safe. It’s not a world war or gas chambers, but it is people taking the lives of other people, people thinking they have the right to do so.

Sit up, look away from your screen for a moment. Look around you. Who do you see? Your husband, your daughter, your mother, a man at the table next to yours, a woman at the next desk, a group of teenagers across the street? Now ask yourself, do you have a right, any reason to harm those people in any way? There is only one answer: no, you don’t.

You don’t have a right to their lives, to their safety, to their livelihood, to their friends or family. You cannot take what is not yours. They don’t even have to say no, because it is basic common sense, basic human rights that what they have and what they are is not yours to take from them.

And there is no excuse good enough to change this, to give you the right to hurt these people. You can’t hit them, shoot them, blow them up, rape them, stab them because you want their land, or you hate them, or to make a point, or because you believe something different than them, or you want justice, or even because you love them. Nothing you want, nothing you have or don’t have gives you the right to use violence against others.

Paris reminds us that our world is terribly broken. There are too many people who believe they have rights to the lives of others, who think that 100, 200, 2,000 lives aren’t too many to take to send a message or exact revenge or just plain murder. But one life is already too many. Paris needs to be more than a reminder of humankind’s affinity for and ability to inflict violence. It needs to remind us that this isn’t going to stop until something changes. Until people start to understand and believe that all people have rights and that those rights should be honored.

And when I say rights, I mean the bare essentials: the right to live, the right to be safe, the right to feel safe.

Fear and sadness will come out of what happened in Paris, most likely more deaths and more hatred. Tomorrow morning things will be a little rougher than they usually are on Mondays. We’ll look over our shoulders when we leave our homes and we will notice for the first time the ethnicity of our baristas and coworkers. We will say prayers to one god or another, “God bless Paris.” But in a few days, a week or two—until a moment of silence on November 13, 2016—life will go back to normal. Most of us still won’t notice large-scale death in countries we can’t locate on a map.

I am asking you not to go back to normal. Notice death. Notice violence. Notice your thoughts and beliefs about human rights. Honor people’s rights to live and be safe. Make sure they feel safe. Know they deserve it. And tell others what you believe.

I won’t be silent anymore. There is little I can do to effect change amongst the billions of people on this planet. But for the handful of lives I touch, for those who might hear me, for them I will no longer hold my tongue. I will teach my children to honor the rights of others—I will show them how it’s done. I will heal from the times my basic rights weren’t honored and be brave and tell my story so that people might better understand what it is to value people’s rights.

I’m sad for what happened in Paris on Friday, and in Beirut on Thursday and Syria on Monday. So many innocents lost. But let us learn from these, let us go forward more aware and more confident in what we can do to change things.

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