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Shaken and Stirred in Paris

Were you moved by the demonstration of European unity in Paris following the terrorist attacks? 

I wasn’t, because I’m innately suspicious of such public outpourings of grief and anger, however spontaneous or apparently well intentioned.  All the more so when they are led by politicians whose attraction to heart-felt spontaneity and emotional sincerity must always be held open to suspicion. 

Remember the mass displays of public grief that memorialised the death of Diana, the once Princess of Wales?  (A fatality that also occurred in Paris, as it happened.)  Unprecedented and entirely out-of-character for a nation supposedly wedded to the idea of low-keyed dignity at such sorrowful times, they were also, for some of us, a little startling and entirely inexplicable.  The British, renowned – justifiably or otherwise – for their common sense, suddenly seemed to have lost all sense of proportion.

These are not the observations of a cynic.  Perhaps this time, in Paris, Europe’s leaders, joining a fair proportion of the citizens of that city, really were moved.  They certainly looked the part, and the occasion was visually impressive, and in being so, was moving.    

But having said that, the politicians who walked on Sunday with linked arms and defiant looks must be shaken as well as stirred.  The reason is that the forces of Islamic extremism operate outside the normal tiresome and petty realms of national political discourse. 

Politicians are adept – in some cases inept – at dealing with opponents who demand more freedom, or a better standard of living, or improved health services, or tighter immigration, or whatever.  They may not always have the right answers, but at the very least they can usually manage to put up some kind of defence, moral or practical, for whatever topic it may be that’s unpopular with voters, if only by pandering to them.   

But what, they must now be asking themselves, can be done with dissidents whose creed, whether the authorised ancient version or some weird modern corruption of it, actually demands less freedom and an implied lower standard of living, apparently not remotely concerned with matters of societal affluence? 

That the politicians don’t have the answers at least puts them, for a change, in company with the rest of us.

What the consequences of the violence in Paris will be I have no idea, but I suspect they will be short-lived, or limited, as dominant media topics.  Within the past decade or so, there have been attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, a train in Madrid and public vehicles in London, each even resulting in far more fatalities than the combined assaults on Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket in Paris.  There have been others around the world, in places too remote to be remembered.  (The day after the Paris events, Boko Haram killed 300 ‘enemies’ in northern Nigeria, to which the newspapers responded with brief coverage on the inside pages.)  The lasting results have not been changes of policies or attitudes, merely heightened levels of security.

Heightened security is of course appropriate, but it doesn’t make the ‘problem’ go away – especially as the causes of the problem have yet to be identified in terms that western voters can fully grasp, intellectually and morally.   Me among them, I might add.

Meanwhile, frustrations are vented with an unreasoned if understandable anger manifested by calls for some kind of counter-jihad – which is precisely what ISIL and other insurgencies are hoping for.  But we insist that such an unholy war doesn’t involve ‘boots on the ground’. We’re still thanking our leaders for ending the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.  What does it mean, then?  Surely not ‘nuking the lot of them’, as one of my normally rational neighbours advocates.

I don’t have the answer, but the politician who does will be a 21st century hero.  I don’t see too many of those waiting in the wings.

And as much as I favour unrestricted freedom of expression, I hope that the survivors at Charlie Hebdo will give crude provocation a rest in favour of real satire.  God knows there are enough targets.    

Better make that Goodness knows.

Until then, je ne suis pas Charlie.

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