Home Thoughts of Paris

Like many of you I’ve been following the events in Paris over the last few days with a mixture of shock and horror but I couldn’t think of anything useful or insightful to say on this blog. It’s truly terrible to see the levels of cruelty and inhumanity that people can descend to, enough to make one feel ashamed to be human, but the frenzied speculation on the net about the nationality of the assailants – based on very dubious documentary evidence – is’t helping anyone. Whoever they were or wherever they came from I doubt if we’ll ever really know what this murderous gang thought they were going to achieve when they set out on their killing spree on Friday evening. I’d be surprised if any of them could actually articulate their reasons for being involved, any more than a typical British soldier could explain, if asked, what he thought he was achieving by his presence in Iraq or Afghanistan.

It’s a matter of great shame that we have become relatively hardened to the news of deaths abroad. Practically every day we hear of killings of occupying troops, insurgents, or non-combatants in the Middle East or elsewhere but we Europeans seems to pay them little attention now. The sickening bombing of a funeral in Beirut killed 44 people on Thursday, but went largely unnoticed. The death toll in Paris is now at least 129, but this is just a tiny fraction of the number of lives lost to violence around the globe this year.

We live a relatively peaceful life in the West, with the result that it hits us rather hard when we can no longer keep such events at a safe distance in our minds, when they strike on familiar territory, such as was the case for the British in the London bombings of 2005. Only then do we see the horror close-up and personal. The people of Paris have to deal with that reality now, but we shouldn’t forget that in small towns we’ve never heard of all around the world many others are frightened and grieving too, and probably for just as little reason.

I don’t live in Paris, but I have been there many times and do have colleagues who live there, most of them in the suburb of Saclay. They’re all safe and unharmed. There will be many others who can’t say the same thing and my thoughts are with them at this terrible time. It must be very tough for Parisians as they try to restore normality to their lives, but that’s what they must do. The deadly attacks on Friday were not attacks on military targets. They were attacks on a sports stadium, a music venue and some bars and restaurants. The survivors owe it to the dead, the injured and the bereaved to carry on their lives regardless and to refuse to be intimidated by terror. I know that’s easy for me to say. I’m not there. But if London can do it in the wake of the atrocities of 2005, then so can Paris.

I find myself feeling much the same as I did in 2008 after a terrorist attack in Mumbai and in 2010 when the murderer Raoul Moat met a violent end in Rothbury. As I get older memories of places I’ve visited are increasingly precious and it’s deeply unsettling when those memories are corrupted by violence. But I am sure that Paris will survive not only as a place of happy memories for me, nor simply as a symbol of so many of the freedoms that others would destroy, but as a real place where real people continue live the way they want to live, in peace and liberty.

14 Responses to “Home Thoughts of Paris”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Many such people explain their motives eloquently in videos filmed before they blow themselves and others up: to disrupt life in the West as part of a clash of civilisations.

    • telescoper Says:

      Well the statement purporting to be from IS about this was far from eloquent – it was utterly incoherent. What is clear to me is that the people behind these attacks – I mean the handlers and the orchestrators – intend to provoke a violent backlash so they in turn can justify further violence. And so it goes on.

      • Adrian Burd Says:

        The handlers of those who perpetrated these deeds are, in my mind, especially heinous, evil, and craven individuals. They can take young people who probably have feelings of frustration, disillusionment, and may be disenfranchised, and turn them into people who can perform these atrocious acts of violence. Not in self defense, but to further the political aims of another. To pervert vulnerable individuals in that way is a very special kind of evil (not a word I use lightly). I suspect that these people are highly intelligent, but devoid of humanity, and I have to say that I cannot fathom, understand, or relate in any way at all to them or their motives (stated or otherwise).

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        You presumably mean …a group of believers and soldiers of the caliphate… targeted the capital of abomination and perversion, the one that carries the banner of the cross in Europe, Paris. They don’t seem to be aware that since the French Revolution Paris has been the epicentre of secular thought in Europe, but they see it as a clash of civilisations alright.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        To some extent there is a clash of civilizations, but many on both sides aren’t sure which civilizations are involved. There is a clash between those who see religion as, at most, a private matter, and those who think that (their) religion should influence or even be the law of the land.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I essentially agree, Phillip. Some religions are intrinsically political as well as religious. Islam is (sections 8 and 9 of the Quran command force where people don’t accept it freely). New Testament Christianity isn’t. I hold the view that it is fine for Christians to be in politics in lands where that is possible (it isn’t possible in North Korea or Saudi Arabia, for instance), but not right for the church as a collective to be in politics. Establishment is a mistake.

        I also agree with Adrian. If certain people want to train suicide bombers, let them train their own sons and daughters first.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        “Some religions are intrinsically political as well as religious. Islam is (sections 8 and 9 of the Quran command force where people don’t accept it freely). New Testament Christianity isn’t.”

        I agree, though in practice it matters little whether a religion is intrinsically political or has been made political. (And, of course, opinions differ on what is intrinsic and what is extrinsic.) Certainly the Crusades and the troubles in Northern Ireland are examples of politicized Christianity. In Myanmar Muslims are oppressed by Buddhists.

        “I hold the view that it is fine for Christians to be in politics in lands where that is possible (it isn’t possible in North Korea or Saudi Arabia, for instance), but not right for the church as a collective to be in politics. Establishment is a mistake.”

        I agree here. Note that in France, most people are at least nominally Catholic, and even the Church officially supports the strict separation of Church and State (which in France is quite strict, both on paper and in practice). This is hard for some people to understand. Perhaps this analogy makes sense: Most US citizens would not object to the existence of the President’s sex life, nor to him getting some satisfaction from it, but would consider it inappropriate to base foreign policy on it.

        “I also agree with Adrian. If certain people want to train suicide bombers, let them train their own sons and daughters first.”

        The problem with this is that they already do, and the sons and daughters have no choice in the matter.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Your last sentence is news to me; can you provide evidence, please?

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        There was someone arrested at a demonstration a while back because he dressed his daughter (about 6 years old, IIRC) with a belt of explosives. OK, it wasn’t real, and was part of a demonstration, but still.

        Here is some stuff about parents celebrating the “martyr deaths” of their children: http://www.palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=479

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        And parents have gone on record stating they encourage their children to become suicide bombers.

        Of course, this is probably the exception, not the rule. Certainly in many cases parents tried to prevent their children from becoming suicide bombers.

      • telescoper Says:

        That’s one way of avoiding having to pay for them to go to university…

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        There’s an awful lot of bragging there coming out of a very macho culture there, Phillip, and people celebrating the loss of their children who were trained by others in a place where the parents know that their child is already dead and that they get a large payout if they toe the line. But not one verified example of a man training his own children to be suicide bombers. I’m not saying it hasn’t happened; I’m saying I want specific evidence rather than being shown a cultural background that makes it more plausible.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        I’m sure it has happened, though of course many richer hypocritical parents send their children out of the country while encouraging others to be martyrs. Countless Palestinian parents support, encourage and praise the sacrifice of their children in suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks.. OK, that is not actual training, but quite close to it.

        I doubt that the enthusiasm is fake and motivated only by money paid to the families of the dead.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    “in practice it matters little whether a religion is intrinsically political or has been made political. (And, of course, opinions differ on what is intrinsic and what is extrinsic.) Certainly the Crusades and the troubles in Northern Ireland are examples of politicized Christianity.”

    Re your first sentence, it is by deliberate choice that I am in a congregation which has no politicised hierarchy above it. As for the Crusades, it was undoubtedly contrary to the Christian scriptures for the Pope to tout Byzantium’s cry west for help in fighting the Turks as a “holy war” to recover the land where Jesus walked. Whether in purely military terms the Crusades were anything more than an episode in the ebb and flow of empires, or more than the preceding centuries of campaigning against Europe by Islamic forces, is a good question.

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