Terrorist Attacks: What Can We Do?

This week, billions of people felt empathetic sadness for the friends and family members of those who were injured or killed in the November 13th terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, while thoughts and feelings are powerful, they are not effective tools when compared to actually taking action. I feel helpless as we, the global community, have not yet done nearly enough to help those impacted by this brutality.

Over the weekend, hundreds of millions of people all over the world posted social media updates, selfies and tricolored profile pictures showing their support for the people of France. While much of the current debate revolves around the usefulness of posting a selfie of oneself in front of the Eiffel Tower, my thoughts have been elsewhere.

Attention is the World’s Most Precious Resource

Large corporations and governments spend billions of dollars every year trying to capture the world’s attention. This week, as social media participation skyrocketed, I worry that the terrorists got exactly what they wanted, the world’s attention.

Their brutal actions not only made the people of Paris feel unsafe, they also made the global community question their own safety. A large percentage of the world’s population is now wondering the same thing, who is responsible for these attacks and why did they do it.

I fear that this collective questioning, and the search that is currently taking place, may cause far worse effects than the brutality that we have already seen.

What Happens Next?

By acknowledging terrorists we inadvertently give them power.

I worry that the amount of global attention that this horrific series of attacks garnered will only inspire future terrorists to inflict more terror. In the United States, we have certainly seen this pattern with school shooters. The attention that Columbine High School generated (along with political policies) led to thousands of additional deaths.

Terrorists know they can be most effective through violence. Violence reaches its peak during war. Is war what they are after? Is France playing into a trap?

Admittedly this is merely speculation and the result of fearful thinking. My real worry is more immediate. What can I, or perhaps more importantly, what can we, do to actually make this horrific situation better? What can the every day person do to fight terrorism?

When a major natural disaster happens, large organizations make it easy for the normal people to donate money to the cause. While incredibly inefficient and ripe for corruption, the act of redistributing financial resources can be helpful.

Similarly, after natural disasters, organizations make it possible for people who have the luxury of extra time to donate their skills and in-person work efforts to help solve real world problems related to the originating disaster.

But what are we supposed to do after terrorist attacks?

I don’t have an answer.

Surely, drawing attention to the terrorists by plastering their faces all over the media is not the right direction. At the same time, debating the effectiveness of those trying to provide emotional support via social media to the people of France is also not the right direction.

So now, like many people globally, I feel helpless. I don’t know how to make this situation better.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jake Rowlings

    Danny, I feel similarly but disagree with at least one of your key points. The attacks were terrible and I want to express my feelings and like you, I also want to affect change. With this type of situation that is hard. That said, I think you might be giving the terrorists too much credit. It is unlikely that this is all a planned series of events with the goal of leading to something bigger.

    • Time will tell. I hope you are right. Like most people, I don’t want to see more violence. Unfortunately, life isn’t simple.

  • Emily Shannon

    Well put. Past generations might have felt the same way but I feel like we live in scary times. In some ways (technology) we are solving our most important problems. In other ways (disparity of wealth and religious ideas) we are creating even bigger problems. Social media is part of both problems and both solutions.

    • Your comment reminds me of the phrase, “the good old days” referring to how every generation thinks the time when they were younger was better. I think you are spot on, times right now are both great and difficult at the same time.

  • Targus Freedman

    So are you for or against expressing empathy through Social Media?

    • I am for more communication, I think that more communication generally makes situations better. I haven’t updated my social media profile pictures but am certainly not against those who do. It is just not how I choose to express my feelings. Instead, I write blog posts.

  • Sean Mulholland

    I think there’s one thing that’s simple and *should* be easy for everyone to do following attacks. We need to make sure we know that terrorists do not represent the communities they may have been borne from. Backlash against Muslims is going to be the largest contributor that will continue to fan the flames between “the Western World” and “Them” (*ominous music*). Terrorist actions like those in Paris are borne of a hatred for the Western world, and from the marginalization of entire countries in the Middle East. There are kids there that have grown up only knowing civil unrest and US military power. A little misguidance by an older freedom fighter and it is no wonder that 14 and 15 year old’s can and are being recruited and indoctrinated and grow into the people that commit these atrocities (not to mention the use of strong arm recruiting tactics as well). Apparently ISIS is recruiting using the lure of young women and a wonderful life in their controlled areas as well (imagine that, young men getting recruited with women and wealth).

    By showing continued compassion and acceptance (accepting refugees, using our resources to rebuild instead of bomb, and showing diplomatic empathy) we can fight the terrorists as a community. If the Western world turns out to not be as bad as the recruiters want their communities to believe, terrorist organizations will inevitably fizzle out because there will be no one to fight. I’m not advocating a Pacifist stance against the terrorists themselves, but as a “civilized” community it is up to us to be the bigger man in these cases. We must continue to help and not hurt, and lead by example instead of by force. By helping to build up their lives, and enrich the lives of their people we will be fighting terrorism in a less obvious way. We need to hold the moral high ground and continue to live our lives as we have in the past by protecting (as best we can) the people, offering aid, and a offering homes and a future for people who just want to live peaceful quiet lives.

    • Well said Sean. The world would be a much better place is more people had the same worldview as you. I hope your ideas and thoughts continue to spread.

      “Backlash against Muslims is going to be the largest contributor that will continue to fan the flames”. I agree. I have heard a lot of people acknowledge this lately so I hope that that message is getting through to the greater population. The blame and repercussions should be targeted to an extreme few, not a peaceful many.

  • Michael

    Giving terrorists all of this attention is exactly what they want. You’re right, this isn’t simple.
    My best friend and his wife live 50 meters from Le Petit Cambodge; I ate there in April 2014. They’re fine just want to continue with their daily life. I actually rented an AirBnb flat in September one block down rue fountaine du roi from where the five people were killed in a pizza cafe. I feel it is more dangerous to walk between Pioneer Square and Belltown in downtown Seattle or San Francisco’s Tenderloin than anywhere in Europe ten years ago or yesterday.

    • I agree, danger can happen anywhere, more commonly in population centers. That said, that doesn’t mean you should avoid all cities or no go to places you enjoy. As you mentioned, all of this complicated.

Join the community of 30,000+