Saturday, November 14, 2015

Defiance

 © Simon Poulter 2015

I had every intention of getting up early this morning to go and see Spectre again. But, apart from the sheer insensitivity of indulgent entertainment, it just seemed plain wrong to be immersed in James Bond's latest fictional dual with a villainous, murderous global organisation. But, then, the numbness I and the rest of Paris is feeling this morning also cuts off the means to make rational choices about anything.

Paris is, instead, this morning curled up on its sofas, huddled under its duvets and gathered with its loved ones, just holding them. My street is empty. Usually on a Saturday morning it is bustling and busy, locals out buying their bread, groceries and flowers, collecting their dry cleaning. But not today. 

Almost exactly ten months ago I was out in a Paris street that was full to brimming. In a show of solidarity to the victims of attacks on a magazine and a supermarket, more than a million people walked from Place de la République to Nation in an enormous, slow-moving carpet of humanity. It took more than three hours just to walk from one end of Avenue de la République to the other.

The march was so huge, so insanely over-subscribed, that even one of the widest boulevards of Paris couldn't handle the volume. A splinter march broke off and went up Boulevard Voltaire before rejoining the main march near Père Lachaise Cemetery. On the way, it walked past Le Bataclan.

No one on that march was under any illusion that mass protest would do anything to stop more bloodshed in Paris, or any other city for that matter. But that wasn't the point. The Charlie Hebdo attack on January 7, and the attack and siege on the Hypercacher supermarket two days later, engendered a profound need for Parisians to come together, to protest - yes - but to also seek the comfort of collective expression. And, in the greatest of French traditions, show defiance.

In the wake of Hebdo, Paris locked itself down. Patrols of heavily armed soldiers would be seen all over the city. They'd been visible at major tourist attractions for years, but now they were outside Jewish schools and other institutions deemed potential follow-up targets. This show of strength - in which you would walk past an apparently anonymous doorway and a police sentry with an assault rifle would appear out of seemingly nowhere - was also meant to show defiance.

Clearly, though, Paris wasn't defiant enough. Because last night, eight young, apparently French-speaking men, brought even greater carnage to the city. But, this time, not to a magazine that had provocatively trodden on cultural sensitivities, but to 120 people in restaurants, cafes and bars of the 10th and 11th arrondissements, at Le Bataclan for a gig, and at the Stade De France for a football match. 120 people, slaughtered by radicalised young men who had been brainwashed by people of even greater evil.

There will be - and has been already - recriminations. Were France's open borders to blame? Well, of course: it is said you can buy an AK47 in France as easily as a copy of Le Figaro. I can't remember the last time I passed through any port of entry and had my passport looked at properly. Was French intelligence to blame for not picking up on the planning of last night's concerted attacks? Was an earlier bomb threat towards the German football team not heeded? Well, of course: but when guns, ammunition and, apparently, suicide vests, and those willing to pull the trigger, are in ready supply, what happened last night could have happened anywhere, and could, and even will, happen again.

Next summer France will host the 2016 European Football Championships, a tournament expected to attract more than a million fans to stadia throughout the country. Never has the phrase 'What if?' been more chilling.

© Simon Poulter 2015
A repeat of last night's attack doesn't bear thinking about. "It could have been you, it could have been me," said an eyewitness at Le Bataclan on French TV. 

I've spent many happy evenings in that venue - gigs by the likes of Paul Weller, Steven Wilson, Robert Plant, Manic Street Preachers, Kaiser Chiefs, Seasick Steve, Bombay Bicycle Club. It could have been me. Two very good friends of mine were there last night. Thank God they got out.

But this is the fear gripping Paris the most today. It could have been any one of us, doing what we do on a Friday evening out - a meal in a restaurant, a drink in a bar, a rock gig, a football match. 

We are the softest of targets. We are blameless in the warped agenda of those carrying out these attacks, and yet we bear the brunt of their brainwashed belief that life is cheap, and cold-bloodedly extinguishing people via AK47s and explosive belts will change the policies of the governments those doing the brainwashing want to impact.

So what's my point? I guess I don't have one. It is still too difficult to make any sense out of last night's bloodshed. It wasn't crime. It wasn't religion. It wasn't politics. And I won't accept anyone telling me that it happens every day in parts of the Middle East so why not in Paris on a Friday night. 

As I posted on Facebook, and I have no shame in saying again here, it shouldn't happen in Iraq. It shouldn't happen in Tunisia. It shouldn't happen in Beirut. It shouldn't happen in the sky over Egypt. And it shouldn't happen in Paris. 

It shouldn't happen.

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