Originally published on johnpavlovitz.com
I despise bullies. I always have.
As a young boy, when I scanned the hallways at school, my eyes instinctively sought out the underdog and the marginalized. I pushed back against those who brokered in intimidation.
Into adulthood, I’ve retained the same burden for those who are being victimized by individuals and groups and structures and systems, and I’ve tried to speak boldly into those places of injustice.
That’s why I hate terrorism.
Terrorists are simply bullies with more experience, bigger weapons, and a greater capacity to damage. Wherever and whenever they surface, the terrorists’ M.O. is always the same: inject fear into the hearts of their victims with a swift and brutal violence designed to disrupt their routines, alter their behavior, and wound their psyches. The terrorist purposefully creates chaos and then exploits the confusion in its unsuspecting targets caught in the middle.
Yes, what we’ve witnessed in the streets of Paris certainly qualifies as terrorism, and we as a global community are quite right to be fully horrified and to condemn it. Coming against it with every resource at our disposal and showing solidarity for the victims there is a good and right thing.
We are surely correct in our shared outrage at what Parisians are enduring, but let’s not pretend that this act of terrorism is an isolated one.
Terrorists are prolific and powerful and at work in this very moment around the world and right in your backyard, and sometimes they use more subtle means than vest bombs and Kalashnikovs.
For decades, the LGBTQ community has been continually and violently attacked by a Conservative Evangelical Church that has vilified, bullied and dehumanized them; literally forcing them from their faith communities with little regard to the collateral damage of their incendiary rhetoric. The gay community is regularly the target of church-birthed, religion-fueled, theologically-justified hatred.
Sometimes the terrorists stand behind pulpits.
In our American inner cities and suburbs, young people of color have been routinely brutalized by corrupt segments of law enforcement; some of the very men and women charged with protecting and serving them. Emboldened by a sense of privilege and blinded by inherited, institutional bigotry, they exploit their power and position, bringing an ambush of fear and violence where it should least be expected.
Sometimes the terrorists wear badges.
The United States has the highest gun ownership rate in the world and the highest per capita rate of firearm-related murders of all developed countries; making mass shootings, accidental gun deaths, and domestic killings a daily occurrence, yet the NRA continues to use its influence to squash any efforts to stop the bleeding in homes and schools and movie theaters and shopping malls, instead choosing to glorify the gun.
Sometimes the terrorists have lobbyists.
Tens of millions of children are sold off into the commercial sex trade each year; losing their innocence in order to line the pockets and feed the perversions of men who view them as little more than disposable sex toys. These are often people of great influence, financial means, and political position who abuse each to broker in boys and girls.
Sometimes the terrorists own businesses.
Every day, women are brutalized by boyfriends and husbands who deem them as property; subjecting them to all manner of violence and intimidation and feeling quite justified in doing so, buoyed by a misogynistic sense of privilege and entitlement in a culture that so often reinforces both.
Sometimes the terrorists wear wedding bands.
Countless children live each day in homes marked by threat and fear, with parents whose contempt for them (and themselves) manifests itself in verbal assaults, physical abuse, emotional violence, and neglect; acts of domestic terrorism whose damage is inflicted at point-blank range.
Sometimes the terrorists share your table.
The bullies are everywhere and they all thrive on silence. As you read these very words, far too many people find themselves on the receiving end of violence that seeks to place terror in their hearts and it is working. The question becomes, are we willing to see it all?
The face of terrorism is tragically diverse, and if we are to fully condemn it, we need to be consistent in calling out all of it or we become complicit. In the face of hatred in the world, we cannot afford to be selectively outraged, or to have our hearts broken only for that which feels convenient or familiar or obvious. We cannot identify evil simply when it fits our politics or preferences or the stark black and white narrative we most desire to be true about the Good and Bad Guys.
If the circle of our compassion only extends to those who look and talk and worship the way we do, we aid and abet the many offenders who count on such apathetic head-turning, whether it be individual, organizational, or cultural.
When it comes to the terrorism in this world in any form, silence is participation.
So today, we who seek goodness and who affirm the value of all life, should stand as one and condemn the terrorists in Paris and Kenya and Beirut and Syria and Missouri and Charleston and across the planet; whether they brandish bombs or wear badges or stand behind pulpits or run universities or wear hoods or protest funerals or shoot up schools or work alongside us.
We should call out hate groups and political powers and religious institutions and social constructs which nurture and incubate violence, whether they are half a world away or in the very places we live and study and worship.
We should continually scan the landscape of our world for those who are daily victimized by fear; those who feel helpless and powerless in the face of evil and be compelled to stand with them, even if the perpetrators look a whole lot like us—or the victims very little.
Yes, let us get about the business of exposing and condemning and dismantling all bullies regardless of where they do what bullies do.
All terrorism threatens all of us.
All terrorism targets Humanity.
May we defend all Humanity.
Note: You do not need to agree with all of the areas I have defined as terrorism here (and there are certainly others which you may be aware of or sensitive to). That terrorism exists in many less obvious environments and forms is the heart of this. I encourage you to look for it and combat it where you see it.