01/20/2015 03:59 pm ET Updated Mar 22, 2015

Je Suis: Jewish, and So much Else

Watching the Golden Globes, and reading the newspaper tributes to the fallen in the kosher meat market in Paris, and the fearless tribe of satirists who seemed to feel that freedom is the true prize of life, I felt very moved. The sentiments of "we will not let terrorists win" evoked in me as no doubt in many, a rallying call from deep within, the yes to freedom, the no to terrorism, the oneness with our fellow Frenchmen as well.

But then I begin to sober up. I get sent a blog in its entirety by fearless truth-teller, Chris Hedges, that wakes me up with a bang. Which terrorism, which violence, he asks, and the answer is no longer simple. Yes, these were acts of terrorism, but where is our willingness to understand the whys? This isn't about being a foolish liberal wanting to make excuses for acts of violence anywhere. It is instead an expression of sensing the need for us to be more curious, and more open to knowing more of how human beings work.

We, who are comfortable on economic levels, buy filtered water when our water is getting more and more polluted; we buy products marked nonGMO on their labels, we buy supplements to combat the toxicity of the air we breathe; we move when another climate--human or physical--calls to us. But what about the suffocation that occurs when there are not those options, when people feel dispossessed of their homes, and by their governments, by foreign invasions. In the New York Times, January 14, 2015, in an article "Crisis in France is Seen as a Sign of Chronic Ills" by Adam B. Ellick and Liz Alderman, the authors state that that there is some awareness that the intensity of reaction and increased security measures by France and its allies " was a distraction from a larger problem: a sense of increasing social and economic marginalization that many cited as a root cause of young people drifting toward extremism."

In conversation, a good friend says he wonders how he would have reacted as a young person if he felt the lack of options, the futility of taking other kinds of more positive actions. He says, out loud, that it doesn't seem so far-fetched to be drawn to an organization that promised redemption or glory. We in the West, have come to see suicide as an option taken by those -- rich and famous or poor and defeated -- who feel no option for betterment in sight. We see it as a tragic option, and perhaps we ought also to see that in some ways we who have incurred wars and poverty in Arab lands, need to step back and see how and why we have been part of the closing down of options -- and how that can change.

In the movie "Charlie Wilson's War," Americans are shown as basically giving arms to the Taliban at the same time we refused to stick around to strengthen an infrastructure that might afford people combinations of jobs, safety, health care, education. We have left young people bereft of education and the safety to get it. And we have watched our own countries, including France, decide basically to cut funding for jobs and education, to leave people already ghettoized stuck in their ghettos.

These are not the words of a bleeding liberal wanting to always be in the right about being wrong. These are reflections on our need to focus on the implication of our actions, on how to ask the real questions about where different sides are coming from. As Reza Aslan has discussed, once we assume a side of absolute right in what he calls a "cosmic" and thereby divine war, there is no room to give in, and at the same time there is no winning. The West, with the capitalism that makes many of us comfortable, can give us the illusion of being better, our own propaganda having told us for so many years that all our wars and our causes are just ones.

There is alienation on so many levels, and I feel my own in the judgment around me that one either loves America or hates it, that decides our opinion says that outright. One is on the good side or on the evil one. There is here a suffocation of a different type: it is hard to breathe in the possibilities, to become aware of our prejudices, our impulses, our rage, our fear, and to question still.

As a Jew I can be a staunch supporter of Israel or I can assume everything Israel does is wrong, those seem to be my options. And yet they give me no space to find out, to figure out. I have been loathe to say out loud over the years that I couldn't see eye to eye Israel occupying the land it now does, because of alleged divine contracts of ancient times, or even because of the genocides of the Holocaust. I couldn't see it, also because I tended to be more cautious in my living choices, preferring not to be surrounded by people who want to kill me. I want to rebel against the mindset that to be Jewish means any one thing -- and that perhaps it means questioning as much as anything else.

Violence can seem like the only solution to people already experiencing the suffocation of dead endings. My hope is that the rest of us, instead of saying "What can you do?" say the same, but with a different intonation. (As a secular Jew, intonation is paramount). "What can we do" becomes a question with dignity, that needs our willingness to really ask difficult questions, and discuss the implications of our actions.

We get to be extreme -- and perhaps extremist -- the moment we are so certain about anything, that we refuse to consider.