Praying for Paris; Fearing for the Future

Waking up to the horrific news coming out of Paris – as yet formless and confused – and watching it coalesce and take dreadful shape over the course of the day has been a grim and unsettling experience. There is a horrible deja vu; the gunfire, the police on the streets. Paris, cradle of civilisation, of culture, of democracy, under attack from forces of barbarism and darkness who strike not so much at the people of the city (though this they also do, lethally and tragically) as at its soul – at its cosmopolitanism, its liberalism, its decency and its tolerance. 

All of those things are going to be sorely tested in the weeks and months to come. Overclouding the gut-wrenching sense of empathy for those murdered and their families, and for a city stricken (a feeling I recall well from the London bombings a little over 10 years ago) is a hollow sense of fear for what this means. For what’s going to happen next. 

I don’t know who perpetrated the Paris attacks. Nor do you, no matter how strongly held your beliefs may be. We’ll probably find out in due course how this atrocity was inspired, planned and executed, but our shared ignorance hasn’t stopped plenty of people from taking to social media (or worse, TV and newspapers) to deliver the stirring verdict that best fits their favoured prejudices and world views. The briefest flick through social media today is tremendously depressing; outnumbering the messages of sadness and condolence, it seems, are those blaming either ISIS, Refugees, Muslims, or all three of the above – and demanding awful revenge against their chosen targets. 

Maybe ISIS was involved – I don’t know, and not do you, but it’s worth noting that despite media-induced fear, ISIS has never before shown any inclination to engage in international terrorism, being content to confine its special brand of hellish evil to its own “state” in the shellshocked remains of Iraq and Syria. Perhaps some terrorists smuggled themselves in among refugees; I don’t know and nor do you, but every shred of evidence for this popular xenophobic meme thus far has been proven to be a laughable hoax, and the refugees themselves are risking everything to flee Islamist violence, not to incite it. As to “Muslims” being to blame; sure, maybe that’s so, but only if you’ll also accept that “Catholics” were responsible for all IRA bombings, that “Christians” bear the burden of all Klu Klux Klan murders and that “Buddhists” need to shoulder the blame for the indiscriminate slaughter of the Rohingya people. Hell, let’s pin Stalin’s purges and the Khmer Rouge’s killing fields on “Atheists” while we’re at it?

One thing I do know about these attacks is that they shared a common objective with every terrorist attack; to provoke, to outrage and to drive a wedge between sectors of a society. Assuming this is an Islamist attack – home-grown or international – it is inspired by a belief that Muslims cannot and must not live within the rules of a secular society, and a willingness to attack that society and destroy its harmony in order to make that awful belief into a reality. 

The fear hollowing out my heart today is that it’s going to work; we will give these evil bastards everything they want, because their attacks will push us where we are weakest. European Muslims, many of them resident for generations, will be attacked and further marginalised (turning the more volatile among them towards the arms of jihadis, just as incidents like Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland sent countless new recruits to the IRA; but hey, who needs real, sustainable security when you can have misdirected revenge and self-righteousness instead?). Refugees fleeing Islamist violence – whose plight we should understand better than ever today – will see doors slammed even more firmly in their faces. Cosmopolitanism, the greatest threat to fundamentalism and violent ideology ever devised, will see a sunset as voices entreating for engagement, for compassion and for the upholding of European values in the face of evil are held in contempt as “soft”, as “appeasers”, as “friends of the terrorists”. It happens already – a standard part of the US political narrative, a common line of attack on the UK’s left wing – it will happen even more often in the weeks to come. 

These battles will have to be fought; evil has struck once again at Europe’s soul, and we must now contend with those who would respond by ripping out that soul entirely and replacing it with a heart of tin. But not today. Please, not today. Save your blame for when we know who to blame; save your hate for tomorrow, and express instead your love and sorrow to the people of Paris today. I’m very afraid of what happens next; but I know that what needs to happen now is love, support and space for grief. 

Comments are closed.