A typical Friday evening in Paris descended into chaos and bloodshed the night before last. After digesting the images and distressing accounts from those who were there, I am using my personal column to convey my own thoughts and feelings on what was a horrific night in France. If you wish to leave comments on this post, please be thoughtful and tactful whilst doing so. Thoughts and opinions will be respected.
My hopes and prayers immediately are with families and friends who lost loved ones on Friday.
The Charlie Hebdo attacks at the beginning of the year were shocking in their own right. An attack on the magazine’s offices was seen as an attack on free speech, and there was deep and heated debate about the lengths and liberties of free speech. There was also an attack on a Jewish supermarket, which I’m sure sent historical shudders around Europe.
Friday night however was different. Six attacks in six different places, including the Stade de France, a music hall and a number of bars and eateries. It was coordinated, executed professionally, and displayed a degree of evil that France had not seen in many decades. Indeed, it is the worst attack on French soil since World War II.
Watching BBC News and Sky News, I was taken aback by the scale and rapidly rising death toll. This was another level of attack compared to the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. And you could feel that. The atmosphere seemed to change during, and in the hours afterwards.
I woke up Saturday and there was something lingering in the atmosphere in France, and perhaps around Europe, that maybe the noble defiance and solidarity shown after the attacks in January weren’t going to be enough this time round. Despite France being on a very high terror alert, these ideological murderers managed to strike with horrifying precision and planning. It is fear that many Parisians will feel, and possibly all those who live in capital cities around Western Europe.
This is of course what terrorists want. To disrupt the way of life for those they see as their enemy. To instill fear. We cannot allow that to prevail.
Emotions right now will be raw for many. The media is still covering this awful event 24 hours a day, recounting eye witnesses, pouring over the details of what happened and when, with footage of vigils and solidarity gatherings all over the world. Thankfully, the kinder side of humanity does come out to show itself during times like these.
But this will stop in a few days time, and then will begin a tortuous period where the world will argue with itself trying to decide on what action needs to be taken. IS has taken responsibility for this attack, and there is little reason to doubt that they had a part to play in this, if not all of it.
Focus will turn back to the Middle East and the growing quagmire that is gradually sucking in nations next door and from around the world. If this was an IS attack, this marks a major step up in their capabilities. Their reach is far and it is deadly. But how does the world respond?
Up until now, the West has seen Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, as a key obstacle in solving the way raging in the Middle East. The US blames his violent crackdown on a popular uprising as a cause for the rise in extremism in his country. There s probably some truth in that. However the bigger and more pressing truth is that Islamic State is the bigger threat, not just to Syria and Iraq, but to Europe, Russia, the US and any other country currently active in the Middle East.
It’s time to put a pin in the Assad mission for now. An attack like this should polarise the world in to coming together to genuinely seek a resolution. Whether Assad is President of Syria or not is irrelevant. IS will be there either way.
Russia, the US, Europe and all other major players do have the power, the people and the resources to put a stop to this. We have to believe in that. Because if we don’t, the flip side of that coin is perhaps a side we don’t want to see.
As hard as it might be during event like this, we have to keep calm heads and not lash out. The worst thing we can do as a population both here and around Europe is to turn on each other. For society to start singling out particular groups.
I fear for the Muslim communities living in Europe right now. They must be in total despair when they see events like this on television in Western cities. Not only because of the horrific violence, but for the repercussions that may come their way by the people on the streets.
Social media, for all it’s benefits, can also show some of the lesser qualities of some people. On my Twitter time line, from window company accounts no doubt, I am starting to see some worryingly over-patriotic tweets. I have seen retweets with some frighteningly nationalistic tones. By all means get behind a cause that condemns such attacks, but we cannot tar whole nations, ethnicities and religious groups with the acts of a very small percentage and evil and deluded individuals who do no represent the values that many of us on this planet hold dear.
Comments like “don’t let the bastards in” won’t help either. I have seen a few of those. It’s a stupid comment really. No country actually wants to let murderers and terrorists in. It’s that sort of closed border, protectionist thinking that will only serve to isolate countries from each other. We live in a globalised world.
Now, clearly a lot more needs to be done to find a solution to the refugee crisis caused by the crisis in the Middle East. The EU is overwhelmed, caught on the back foot and clearly does not have a clue on how to handle it. What makes things worse is if reports of the attackers coming from the Middle East and traveling through Europe to carry these attacks out are proved to be true, individual European countries will feel like the only option is to close all it’s borders.
Call me naive, but I don’t buy into the argument that the millions leaving war torn countries to find solace in Europe are all terrorists and want to kill us. I just don’t. However, I am under no illusion that terrorists will be using this crisis to their own gains. What the solution to all of this is I am not sure. But the world cannot just continue to half arse this any longer.
Bombings around the world
There is one more point I would like to make. Whilst the Paris attacks are of course inhumane and shocking to everyone, there are parts of the world that are unfortunately used to these sorts of things, yet get very little press.
Last week Beirut was attacked by two suspected suicide bombers, killing 41 people. It got very little news coverage. There were no candle lit vigils. The US President did not make an emergency statement on the tragedy. Sky News didn’t send presenters there to cover it live.
Baghdad, Gaza, Jordan, Islamabad, Yemen, Kabul. Cities, countries and territories used to regular attacks, with death tolls in similar numbers, yet no international outpouring. Just some worldwide perspective on a problem that has affected many other countries for many years, but in Europe only recently.
As we head towards Christmas and we try and think about something a little less depressing, it’s hard to ignore that for Paris, for France and for Europe, the mood and atmosphere has changed after this. There will be a bit more looking over the shoulder. More wondering of when, rather than if the next attack is coming. An unhealthy state of mind.
My sincerest thoughts are with the people of Paris, France and all of those around the world that have lost loved ones to such heinous acts.