What will it take to bring us all together?

January 12th, 2015

Many of the world’s citizens were French on Sunday (Jan. 11), at least for a few hours, as we watched what has been called the largest demonstration in the history of France. At least 3.7 million people marched in Paris and elsewhere in the country, including over 40 world leaders. It was a day of coming together after 17 people died in Paris last week at the hands of Islamic extremists.

There were Muslims holding signs that read “Je suis juif” (I am Jewish). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas marched together (not side by side — but it’s a start!) One news report even showed a Palestinian and an Israeli embracing.

Video: France 24

It was so inspiring, even MSNBC and Fox News anchors were giving each other shout-outs on Twitter.

But the day wasn’t entirely positive. President Obama was widely criticized for not attending the march and for not sending another high level official to participate.

And a BBC News reporter actually told the daughter of Holocaust survivors on live TV, “Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.” He’s now facing calls to resign.

But those were the exceptions. By and large, it was day of remarkable unity.

The cynical side of me says that this won’t last. I look at how the U.S. and the world came together immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. We were back to our old ways within weeks.

But the hopeful side of me says that it must last.

This wasn’t the last attack of this nature, and the more these kinds of things happen, the less our political and religious differences are going to seem to matter.

Not that those aren’t important. But something about tragedy and facing a common enemy seems to help us keep things in a healthier perspective.

And make no mistake, the sort of evil we're dealing with is far from defeated. 

Last week while the world was watching what was happening in Paris, as many as 2,000 people were killed in Nigeria by militant Islamist group Boko Haram. According to Fox News, many of these were women, children and elderly victims who were too slow to outrun the fighters.

I understand that it’s probably easier, safer and less expensive to cover news in Europe than it is in many parts of Africa. France is more stable and has more news bureaus than Nigeria. But 2,000 civilians dying anywhere should be big news, especially when the killers are the same kinds of terrorists and religious extremists that millions were marching against Sunday in Paris.

The Nigerian massacre was treated as almost routine by the news media, yet the world seemed to stop on its axis for the Charlie Hebdo attack and subsequent marches in Paris.

If the momentum from Sunday's march is to continue, we have to make a real effort to stay on top of what’s going on all over the world. We can’t ignore atrocities and incidents of terrorism when the victims don’t look like us, don’t share our religion or don’t live in the countries we’re most familiar with or most concerned about.

In the 20th century, the world came together and defeated the Nazis. We now face an enemy that’s no less ruthless, and our best shot at defeating it is to fight it together.

Sunday in Paris gave us a glimpse of that kind of unity, but let's face it — marching is easy, especially when there are three million plus people with you and the TV cameras are rolling. What happens when the crowds and the news crews are gone and everyone has to do the hard work of coming together in spite of all of the differences?

Will the 40 world leaders who were at the march on Sunday (and the ones who weren’t) stop at just words or will they finally work together and take real steps to deal with the Islamic State group, Boko Haram and other manifestations of religious extremism that threaten peace?

What will it take to bring (and keep) us all together in the war against terror? Let's hope it's not constant attacks like the one in France last Wednesday, or this is one war that's going to become nearly impossible to win.

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