The next day, I watched my friends change their profile pictures to show solidarity and sympathy with the French. I thought long and hard about doing the same. After a while, I decided I just couldn't. So I posted the little essay below to explain that my refusal was not due to any lack of sympathy or a rejection of any sign of compassion. I've made a few small edits, because I'm a writer and can't stop doing that...
11/14/15: I respect those of you who have made the choice to post the French flag in a gesture of solidarity in the wake of the Paris attacks. I am not putting the French Flag over my profile picture for several reasons. First off, there are just too many atrocities being committed by numerous Islamic terror groups all over the world, all equally horrible and tragic. These days, I'd have to be changing my profile picture every other day. How can I pick just one as the most horrible? I love France and have many warm memories of the people I met there (even a few in Paris, where I'd been warned time and again how dreadful they were to Americans). So, yeah, I feel the attacks there more strongly, since I have a personal connection.
But the murder of 150 Kenyan University students made me want to hurl. So did the rape and kidnapping of 200 African schoolgirls. I remember clapping my hands over my mouth to stifle a scream when I saw the news about that brave, doomed Jordanian pilot caged and burned alive. The rape and slaughter of children and wholesale murder of Christian communities throughout the Middle East wakens murderous impulses in me. I didn't change my profile picture for any of them, so not going to now, much as I grieve for Paris.
I think so many of us are reacting more strongly to the Paris attacks because we have, on some level, come to sort of expect the ongoing mutual slaughter and atrocities in Third World countries; we cringe, shake our heads, and say to ourselves, "How can people live like that? Why won't they stop?" This time, it happened in an advanced, ancient, and supposedly enlightened European capital, one many of us have visited or lived in. That somehow makes it more personal, brings it home.
There are many reasons for the current rise in Islamic extremism and the terrorist movements it spawns. Some of it goes back nearly to before recorded history, to cultural paradigms that can't be easily changed, or maybe changed at all. Some of it is a direct response to US and other foreign governments' intervention in the Middle East. Some of it is due to the darker side of human nature. Regardless, it's not going to stop. It will, in fact, get worse before it gets better. And sharing a flag on FaceBook is not going to change that.
I pray something does. And soon.