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Paris, November 13, 2015: Imagine all the people, living life in peace

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"Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities." -- Voltaire

Two currents intersect my view of the coverage of the Paris carnage. In one are a multiplicity of messages and symbols expressing the grief felt by so many around the world for the victims of a dreadful terrorist attack on the people and the city of Paris, the country of France, and indeed on civilized society itself.

The slaughter of people never has excuse or justification, and in this instance as, alas, in so many others, the victims are innocent non-combatants, guilty of nothing whatsoever. Condemned to violent death simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As some analysts have pointed out, this attack was not even on the French state per se, or symbols of its power or authority -- law courts, police stations, banks, government buildings, the armed forces, transportation hubs -- but on citoyens gathered with friends for a meal, a drink, a sports match, a concert.  Not politicians, or bankers, or soldiers, but ordinary Parisians. The object was simply to create as much carnage as possible.

 Stanislav Belkovsky

At the same time a stream of messages run counter to these sentiments of solidarity, reminding -- whomever listens to such things -- that many other innocents have also died, and to much less fanfare. Victims of bombings in Beirut (apparently perpetrated by Islamic State) on November 12 and in Baghdad on November 13 (Islamic State again); in Syria every day -- those responsible include Russian, American, French, Canadian, and Australian governments, Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic State, and various insurgent factions; in a fallen Russian aircraft carrying tourists home, blown up over Sinai on October 31 (Islamic State, yet again); innocent families killed by Israeli bombing attacks in the Gaza Strip (June 7); students at Garissa University in Kenya on April 3, (al-Shabab being responsible). The litany is endless.

"The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reason." -- Voltaire

And this is, of course, all true. Those who have been living under a rock since birth may not have noticed that the mainstream media has a short attention span and a selective focus. Those who have not, have kenned to this phenomenon. It is both profoundly unjust -- and perfectly understandable. Indeed, we all triage our input of the horrific. Were we to try and absorb the totality of the never-ending catalogue of tragedies that occur throughout the world we would have no time for anything else, nor emotional resources to retain our sanity. We all have limits of how many calamities we can absorb, and so the mental screens we use to shield our lucidity filter out what they can, leaving only what strikes strike closest to home.

"What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly -- that is the first law of nature." -- Voltaire

 Christopher MajkaParis is an artistic, cultural, and aesthetic cornerstone of Western culture; its streets the backdrop of much that has shaped our collective consciousness. Edith Piaf, François Villon, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Marcel Proust, Samuel Beckett, Claude Monet, George Seurat, Jean-Paul Sarte, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Anaïs Nin, Guillaume Apollinaire, André Breton, and Voltaire are only the first names that leap to my mind of Parisian (occasionally transplanted) writers, artists, and thinkers who have influenced my intellectual and artistic path, and that of my milieu, and my generation, and my country. Many of us have spent time there. Many of us have friends or family there. And, of course, media are there in multitudes -- unlike the Sinai desert, the wild and war-torn Syrian mountains, or Iraqi steppes. There is much to grieve and only so many tears we can shed.

"It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets." -- Voltaire

It's important to understand the proclivities of the media, and to have a perspective on our own historico-cultural vantage. At the same time reducing them to talking points drained of the human tragedy that lies at their core loses sight of something important. Of the many people who will never return home after what was to have been a pleasant and diverting evening. The many other lives that will forever be lessened by the deaths of loved ones. The radiating rings of grief will take weeks, or months, or years, or decades to heal and leave scars that will never disappear.

We ought grieve for innocents slaughtered. Our hearts may not have the space to accommodate them all, but in the end, if we grieve only for one life needlessly shed, that may be sufficient. For that grief can awake in us an understanding of the folly and heartbreak of all such carnage. That war and savage death is -- whether in Paris or the Levant, in Kenya or Nigeria, in Lhasa or Lahore -- as Edwin Starr so succinctly put it put it in 1969, "friends only to the undertaker."

"Prejudices are what fools use for reason." – Voltaire

 Rebecca KeseyWe must grieve for those who have been slaughtered, but we must act as well. We must demand of our leaders -- political and otherwise -- that they stop the quarrel with the foe. That this torch should be extinguished, not thrown to future generations. The way to peace … is peace. The merchants of death, whether private or state, trade in the coin of tragedy. Where that coin will be spent, cannot be foreseen, but spent it shall be. We must invest in life and not in the means of propagating death. 

"To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth " -- Voltaire

Art can sometimes articulate what other voices cannot. The response that struck the most resonant chord in me was that of pianist Davide Martello (a.k.a. Klavierkunst), who drove all night from his home in Konstanz, Germany and then pulled his piano across Paris with a bike up to rue Richard Lenoir, mere meters from the Bataclan, the concert hall that was the scene of the bloodiest terrorist attacks in Paris. Then he began to play.

"Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people, living life in peace ... You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one." -- John Lennon

Christopher Majka is an ecologist, environmentalist, policy analyst, and writer. He is the director of Natural History Resources and Democracy: Vox Populi.

Photo credits, in order of appearance: Stanislav Belkovsky, Christopher Majka, Rebecca Kesey.

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Keep Karl on Parl

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