Thoughts on Paris

Short one, because other, far more qualified and clever people have penned far more exhaustive and worthwhile comment on this subject than I ever could.  That said, you’re here now, so you might as well read what I have to say.

Even if you’re not in the habit of critiquing the world’s most peaceful monotheism, or of drawing images of its prophet, I should think that it’s no longer possible to believe that you’re safe from being targeted by its most bloody-minded practitioners. But then there have been hundreds of occasions over the past fifteen years where this epiphany should have been reached, and so if you’re not convinced by now, you probably never will be.

Something about Friday night’s appalling events did feel somehow different to those that have come before. The intended targets of this attack were not just fans of football, French cuisine and the Eagles of Death Metal. If you’ve ever been to a sports event, concert, or restaurant then you were among the intended targets of Friday’s display of insanity. Any of the people reading this could have been among those lined up and slaughtered like cattle. I read several status updates on Friday night that began: “Just got back from the gig and seen what happened…”

It just so happened that these people were attending a different venue to the one where the massacre took place. This time.

A terrifying thought. I suppose that’s the point of terrorism. So terrifying that many of us might now choose to avoid live music, restaurants and football matches in future, just as we’ve agreed to avoid drawing forbidden pictures and expressing forbidden thoughts about you-know-what. If our current trajectory plays out, perhaps in the future we’ll be so terrified that we avoid breathing, sleeping, and moving.

This terror manifests itself in other ways. Intellectual and moral cowardice are, as they always are after an atrocity like this one, in abundant evidence. This cowardice has many symptoms. You might have seen people approvingly (and selectively) quote 5:32 as proof of the benignity of Islamic teaching, but few such people then proceed to quote 5:33. Suffice to say, dishonesty about the tenets of the faith, or outright unabashed ignorance of them, is unlikely to help anyone. Least of all Muslims.

Others might prefer to pontificate about the inherent racism of border control, or of criticising scriptural barbarism, or of western foreign policy, or of stringed musical instruments. This preference, it seems to me, is driven almost entirely by cowardice. It’s easy to condemn racism. It’s easy to feel good about it. It’s easy to change your profile picture on Facebook, tweet a hashtag and sign an e-petition. This is not to say that easy things are not worthwhile, but they should not become a substitute for substantive soul-searching and discussion of the problem.

A whole barrel-load of questions must be pondered frankly and openly, without mudslinging, smears or silencing tactics. Among these are: Is ISIS’s interpretation of Islamic scripture a plausible one? What is it that draws people to join this anti-human, anti-fun organisation? Might allowing vast swathes of people carte-blanche entry into the Schengen area result in a few of them turning out to be religious terrorists – and do we have any way of distinguishing genuine refugees, economic migrants and undercover jihadists apart from one another?

These are not popular questions. They are unpopular because they are difficult. They require nuance, admissions of uncertainty, and expertise. They also are inherently likely to be divisive – which in one sense is precisely the opposite of what’s now required.

There are other questions which are less difficult, and yet still seem to be avoided anyway. For example: should people be allowed to say, think, draw, watch, eat and listen to whatever the fuck they want? I would suggest the answer is yes, and that this affirmation needs to be made far more widely and unapologetically.

My grandmother’s generation, having been on the receiving end of the Luftwaffe, understood the importance of solidarity in the face of enemy attack. And we must now reach the same understanding. To put it briefly: we need to stand up for our fucking values, and affirm our right to live freely, and not beneath the fascist boot of an insane theocracy. No-one else will do it for us.

Right, now it’s time to get on with actual work. Ciao.


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