by Mena Mohamed

When a customer where I work came up to me and told me that she refused to make her purchase if I was the cashier, mumbling “terrorist” under her breath, I thought I had seen it all. Long stares in the street, thorough security checks at the airport, the occasional islamophobic remark – I can handle all that. I have been handling that for quite some time – but what I cannot handle is someone grouping me into the same moral category as a cold-blooded murderer.

The Paris attack on November 13th will go down in the books as one of most tragic events in French history. The perpetrators committed an atrocious and heinous crime while representing an organization that has become notorious for doing much of the same all around the world. I hate ISIS – not only for their offenses against innocent civilians, their destruction of families, and their exploitation of those who are weak, but also for the flame they continue to add to the fire against Muslims around the world. Terrorism and religion are two separate entities, an idea that can be difficult to maintain in today’s world, especially when violent headlines refer to the ‘Islamic State’.

Anyone can evoke terror – it is a capacity found in each and every one of us, and is not concentrated any more in a Muslim than in a Christian.

What many of us are seeing on Twitter, on Facebook, and on the news is the exact reaction terrorism seeks to instill – terror. Terror, fear, and a sense of hysteria that can blind and deceive. It leads to rash decision-making and irrational thinking. It is not logically possible that ISIS will ever “bring destruction to all Western civilization”. It is just not feasible. The US is a military giant, imposing its own power in countries all over the world. We must have a little more faith that it will not crumble to one militant organization after fighting several for over 200 years. This fear distracts us from the most important issues facing our nation today and makes us vulnerable, divided, and scrambling for a scapegoat. In that sense, ISIS is winning.

Furthermore, we cannot be imbalanced in our reactions to hate. I don’t think that’s fair. We cannot decide that hate is unacceptable in Paris and let it thrive in Nigeria. We cannot decide that 9/11 is an attack on all our universal values, but that a massacre in Lebanon is unworthy of reaction. That, to me, isn’t a civilized world ready or prepared to look terrorism in the face and say “enough”.

In the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis and in the face of these trying times, it is time so show compassion. Not just to fully appreciate your own vitality and those all around you, but also to reflect on the value of all human life and the rhetoric we use to address it when it is tragically lost. Opinions on border control aside, Syrian refugees are human beings too and deserve to be referred to as such; they are not “animals” or “sheep”. The victims of the Paris attacks are not merely statistics; they had families, spouses, and friends. We must stop devaluing and politicizing human death and take a minute to mourn what is lost. This compassion is the one thing ISIS least expects, and it may just be our strongest weapon.