Last night on the way home from a night out of dancing I turned on the radio to learn of the horrors of the dystopia unfolding across the channel in Paris. Utopia to Dystopia in just a few short hours! The reports from Paris are completely sickening and horrifying. It feels as if life has changed beyond recognition in one fell swoop.
Once home I turn on the TV and watch as the depth of the horror in the streets of Paris continues to unfold. More images in the morning, many filmed on personal mobile phones. Tales of individual fear and personal courage. Unnerving sound tracks of people calling out, desperate to get information, and of others clinging to balconies, silent, hiding. LIke so many others I now feel dazed, in a state of shock, mesmerised, frightened. In between news footage on Sky adverts seems repulsively out of context, ludicrous, pointless, worthless, almost sinister.
An attack on soft targets. An indiscriminate attack on innocent, unconnected individuals, on people attending a football game, listening to rock music in a concert hall, eating in restaurants.The emotional response is debilitating. Fear and horror is the instinctive reaction. Anxiety about the world we live in rises.
President Hollande declares a state of emergency, and describes the incident as a merciless attack against the French way of life. But these actions cannot be understood as ‘attacks on the French way of life’ or as somehow embodiments of ‘pure evil’. There is a broader picture and that picture is complicated. The more we throw insults, bombs, horrors at each other the worse the situation becomes. We have to think smart to find a way through this frightening reality of our lives.
Inside today’s newspaper is a report on the ‘hit squad’ of a British-born man described as a ‘human animal’. He has been ‘taken out’ in a drone attack in Raqqa, Syria, by combined British and American forces. I remember with disquiet that the British parliament voted some time ago against getting involved in bombing Syria. Cameron has already made it clear that this killing was an act of ‘self-defence’. The argument stretches credibility. It is no doubt an attempt at sidestepping any parliamentary concerns and pre-empting any legal arguments that may arise at some point in the future.
Many of us are uncomfortable with the fact that the President of Syria is loathed by many of his own people, whom he kills and imprisons with impunity. We are not sure we should be helping to keep such a man in power by arming him to fight against his opponents, and by participating in that fight ourselves on his behalf. But, the argument goes, we might do so to further our national self-interest. It seems to me that doing so may in fact be against our national self-interest. ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’ is starting to look like a particularly bitter argument to be asked to swallow.
The US military say they are ‘reasonably sure’ it was Mohammed Emwazi (aka “Jihadi John’) who was killed in the drone attack last week. The event was described as the latest ‘symbolic blow’ in the battle against the terrorism. One feels that perhaps the events in Paris last night are a rather more telling ‘symbolic blow’ and that we are not winning this cynical exchange. When we hear of beheadings carried out by Emwazi I find myself reasoning that many of the tyrannical Arab governments we support also practice beheading, torture, unlawful detention. Mass killings of innocent people is a horror perpetrated on both sides. At the very least let us admit that it is a complex picture rather than a crude and simplistic one of black and white, good and evil.
President Obama, in that inimical American way, speaks of the ‘pure evil’ nature of the attack on ‘liberty and equality’. I simply feel that we must remember, as I mentioned in my last blog, that if democracy is not working well, if people feel they have no voice, then civil unrest will eventually result.
People who perceive that they have no right to any future will become a problem for us all. We need to look for solutions rather than hurling insults. An obvious route we should have followed is to have acted with international solidarity to assist desperate, impoverished people fleeing war-torn areas. We should have put in place a well-managed, legal immigration programme, sharing out the burden of offering a humane response to their plight, allowing people to enter the country legally, with a chance to contribute to the economy and to make a life for themselves within a legal, humanitarian framework. Instead we pushed them out onto the fringes of society. We put desperate, displaced people in the hands of bandits and pirates. How long can families be expected to tolerate living in refugee camps that are little more than concentration camps? Instead of an ordered humane system we effectively funded anarchic groups acting outside the legal system. We created a ticking time bomb.
Injustice and inequality comes home to roost and hurts us all eventually. We do have a choice. We are big enough and rich enough to see a way through this. We are also big enough and rich enough to reek more death and destruction. If we do that violence on all sides will escalate, but it will not keep us safe.