Imagine a world with me here: A world where the United States never became a super power. One where it was fractured land and another nation placed hundreds of military bases in or around what is the continent of North America. It’s a world where another nation disposed of America’s leaders at their whim.

Where even the “democratically” elected leaders had to be approved by this other nation and if they weren’t, there would be a coup d’é·tat.

Where this fractured nation would see leaders replaced over and over again.

Where its people lived under the threat of invasion at any moment, where kids are scared to play on a clear day because drones would be flying around to target anyone deemed a threat to their security. And this nation would be on the other side of the world, seemingly one you can’t touch or defend yourself against.

Now, think about how you would react in such a world?

This is just a glimpse of what it’s like to live under American imperial rule in the Middle East. The United States has hundreds of military bases in and around the Middle East. Its foreign policy is littered with coups and the disposing of elected leaders because they didn’t support the United States’ “national interests.” Because they didn’t let United States’ companies run wild in an unregulated market and because they wanted to control their natural resources, to grow their own nation, and their own country.

The United States has supported and placed in power brutal dictators in the name of national security. It has replaced the democratically elected government of Iran with the Shah, who was overthrown in their revolution and replaced with its current government. The United States government then played both sides in the Iran/Iraq war in the 1980’s. The U.S. knew Saddam Hussein was launching some of the worst chemical attacks in history — and still gave him a hand. It has armed extremist groups with the hopes of destabilizing a nation multiple times and millions of people were killed. This ultimately gave rise rise to the Taliban and now, most recently, ISIL.

The majority of those killed by American drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan have not been the intended targets of assassination. They are causing terror among the populations, where kids don’t dare go outside during a clear, sunny day to go play because they may end up scattered throughout the ground.

These large amount of civilian deaths are called “collateral damage,” yet the deaths of Western civilians are called “terrorism.” Terrorism is the “use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” What is the distinction between the United States and its allies’ foreign policy and the terrorists they are fighting against? They are both using violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

Now, let me be clear, none of this is to say that what happened in Paris wasn’t tragic. The loss of human life is tragic. But, in order to understand what happened in Paris; we have to understand where it comes from. Islam is not violent, not any more violent than the many deaths that have come under Christianity. The KKK caused years of terror in these United States and right-wing terrorists have caused more American civilian deaths than Muslim extremists.

These individuals don’t hate or attack Western nations because of nebulous “freedoms.” No, it’s because for many of these people’s entire lives, these nations have caused nothing but destruction and violence. Their violence against Western nations is in reaction to the violence they face and they cloak it under religion. Violence being cloaked by religion is nothing new and has been happening for centuries.

The violence that has been caused on people in the Middle East has created a huge void. A place devoid of hope and prosperity is where evil can easily take advantage of those lost souls. And evil can and will prosper. And now Western nations are doubling down on this, reacting — as ISIL would hope — by closing their borders to refugees attempting to escape the violence. And by creating a want of more violence in these “civilized” nations.

Make no mistake; this is not a war of civilizations, but of one’s soul. America must open our doors to give us the world’s tired, poor, and hungry. We must take a lesson from that old story that we seem to love about a Middle Eastern family looking for refuge and being turned away. The American people must stop the United States government from disguising its imperialistic endeavors with that of national security and national interests. America is indeed an empire, with its 700-plus military bases across the globe.

The United States will end up spending more than $6 trillion on decade-long wars of choice in the Middle East. Meanwhile, millions of Americans are dying at home (including, ironically, many military veterans) because the United States does not have money for the basic needs of its own citizens.

Start supporting black lives, supporting Latin American immigrants, start supporting those living in poverty within its own borders and beyond. Start investing in humanity. If this civilization chooses humanity, I’m willing to wager it will grow strong, not just powerful, and that it will improve its national security far more than any new $400-million fighter will.

The bottom-line question, at some point, must be asked: Is there an American presidential candidate that is willing to reverse course on the past 60 years of disastrous foreign policy and challenge the military industrial complex? Has there been? The closest this world has seen is Presidents Eisenhower parting words to beware of the Military Industrial Complex. But every decade since Ike, America has gotten significantly worse at heeding his call. The need to stop and reflect and change course in the United States has never been more necessary and crucial.