Saturday, November 14, 2015

To Paris, with Love

Yet again, another tragic loss of life that has left every civilised human being in the world reeling in shock. 

People just out to enjoy a Friday night in Paris with their friends or families - a concert, a sporting event, a bar. 

I lived in Paris for seven years and, while everyone I know is safe, many live and work close by the areas of attack. 
The truth is, it could be any one of us these days, because we just don’t know when or where these monsters are going to strike next. They have no morals, no heart, no soul. The fact that they carry out these atrocities in the name of religion makes them even more sickening. 
The arbitrariness of such callous killing is what has united the world in an extraordinary act of solidarity. I say extraordinary only because, so much of the time, we seem disunited: country against country, people against people. Maybe it takes a common enemy to make us see that there is a core of humanity that runs through our blood, irrespective of our origins or disparate beliefs.
The best word for it is empathy:  defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. We feel it for the people of Paris and France today (as we did in January, following the attack on the capital city’s Charlie Hebdo offices) , just as others have done for the acts of carnage committed throughout all our histories - 9/11, the Boston Marathon, the IRA bombings, to name but three. 
Individually, most of us possess a conscience; a sociopath does not. It’s not something you can plant if it’s not here in the first place. Many killers have consciences - it’s what often makes them return to the scene of the crime and, in some cases, makes themselves want to get caught. Their guilt is alleviated (in their dreams).
There is also a collective conscience-ness: our care for our fellow beings, even though we live on the other side of the world. 
The killers who carried out the Paris attacks and who are being recruited at an alarming rate are conscience-less. To call them sociopaths sounds too soft; likewise, killers. Today, even murderous bastards sounds way too light. They are not only conscience-less, they are inhumane. They fly in the face of everything most of us are brought up to believe: the value of love, truth, honesty, loyalty.
The horror is that in their own minds, they possess those qualities; in reality, they have no idea as to their true meaning and have squandered the concepts on an altar that is nothing more than the misguided belief of pure rightness: a belief that is, in essence, the altar of nothingness.
Far from being powerful, these (in)humans are weak: mere sponges who collectively cannot think or feel for themselves; but, as someone pointed out to me on Facebook yesterday, there are still more of us than there are of them.
What is the answer? No one knows, as a member of the French Senate said today on CNN, when asked. She added, ironically: please, if you know what that solution is, tell us.
While governments try to address this world war (for that is undoubtedly what it is), one thing that the rest of us can do is be vigilant.
A few years back, in  Paris bar, a helmeted figure entered and pretended to hold the place up. I threw myself to the ground and went into protection mode, yelling to everyone to “Give him what he wants.” Everyone laughed when I realised I was the only person prostrate on the floor and it had all been a joke, as the man was a friend of the owner.
So, that’s another thing we can do - not be stupid. Don’t make jokes at airports, on planes, even in bars. You don’t know when it’s real, and while not everyone is a suspect, every venue is a potential target.
We will all go on living our lives, but for those who have lost theirs, or who, on Friday, lost their loved ones, nothing will ever be the same.
We will hug our families more closely, tell them to be careful, encourage them to phone if they are going to be late, ask them not to take risks, not to trust strangers.
The great sadness is that you can ask all that, adhere to it all, and it may not make a blind bit of difference when somebody can just walk into a concert hall with a Kalashnikov or don a suicide to vest to make themselves part of the carnage.
Maybe the best that we can do as individual citizens is to be there for each other when the horror strikes. We may not be able to prevent it, but we can show the very best of what means to be human by standing side by side, upright, ultimately invincible in the great collective spirit of Go To Hell.
Vive la France.
Nous sommes francais.
Liberte, égalité, fraternité.


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