The news from Paris last Friday left the world stunned as 129 were killed and 352 were injured in a series of terrorist attacks in that city.
After an initial shocked silence, people around the world responded to the attacks.
On Facebook, some posted “Pray for Paris” messages, images of the Eiffel Tower or profile pictures in the colours of the French flag as a way of showing solidarity with the people of France.
On Twitter, Paris residents used the hashtag #PorteOuverte (or “open door”) to offer shelter to visitors stranded following the attacks.
The responses were tender and compassionate.
Some talked of the need to take action so such attacks will not happen again.
Then I looked at online news coverage and my heart sank. The comments following the stories took on a much harsher, much more aggressive tone.
The initial shock quickly gave way to blame, finger-pointing and calls for revenge and retaliation. Mourning was replaced with rage.
The anti-Islamic comments began to appear even before ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) had claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Some commenters used the opportunity to condemn Muslims in general, not just the extremists. Others went farther, stating that all religious beliefs are responsible for acts of violence and thus should have no place in our world.
Many said similar terrorist attacks would happen here at home in North America, if Canada and the United States continued to open their doors to allow Muslim refugees to live here.
Then there were the comments calling for an escalation of military force in Iraq, Syria and other countries affected by militant extremists. These comments quickly moved beyond the goal of stopping ISIS to a rallying cry for war.
Just two days before the Paris attacks, during Remembrance Day and Veterans Day ceremonies, people around the world had taken time to mourn the losses suffered during times of war. It seems the Nov. 11 calls for peace were quickly forgotten.
The search for someone to blame and the quest for retaliation brought out the worst in some as angry, harsh words appeared in the comments. Many responded with emotion and extreme outbursts rather than thoughtful consideration.
If the online commenters have as much pent-up fury as what I saw on my computer screen, there is good reason for concern.
What will it take to push some of these people from typing words of rage to unleashing acts of rage?
How much will it take before some decide to move from harsh words posted online to vigilante justice or a militant mob out for revenge?
Such incidents have happened in recent years, including in Europe and the United States.
Even a few such attacks can have a huge impact, escalating an already tense situation.
It’s easy to view acts of violence as something entirely separate from the online comments which appeared following the Paris attacks, but doing so would be a mistake.
The power of unchecked rage must not be overlooked.
Words can lead to deeds. Attitudes can manifest themselves as actions. And anger can escalate until it culminates in violence and eventually in war.
Friday’s attacks in Paris are tragic, senseless acts of violent extremism.
How we react will determine what happens next.
We may not be able to change the world, but we have the power to choose to respond with revenge or with kindness.
What’s your choice?
John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.