Five years On: November 13th 2015

French flag

French Flag   Photo courtesy of François Schnell, Flickr. 

‘Je ne suis pas d’accord avec ce que vous dites, mais je me battrai jusqu’à la mort pour que vous ayez le droit de le dire.’

‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’

This ‘quotation’ from Francois-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire (1694-1778), may be apocryphal but it illustrates perfectly the stand taken by this great philosopher of the Enlightenment  in defence  of one of our basic democratic freedoms – freedom of speech and expression (later enshrined in the First Amendment of the US Constitution).

It is a tragic irony, therefore, that five years ago on November 13th 2015, in a Parisian boulevard named after Voltaire, 90 people were massacred by religious fanatics opposed to such liberties. These victims, and other ‘miscreants’, were punished in a series of three separate attacks, one outside the Stade de France during an international football match, the second in Paris, aimed at people sitting on café terraces and the third, mentioned above, at the Bataclan Theatre on Boulvard Voltaire where fans had assembled to hear a concert by The Eagles of Death Metal. In total, on that terrible night,  Islamist terrorists killed 130 people and injured 416 others .

Since then there have been numerous similarly bloody attacks and atrocities committed in the name of Islamic jihad, culminating in September this year with the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty and the stabbing to death, 12 days later, of three people inside the church of  the Notre Dame Basilica in Nice.

In an IFOP survey published on 2nd September this year, 74% of French Muslims under the age of 24 stated that they put Islam before the Republic. French President Emmanuel Macron has taken a brave stand against what he calls ‘Islamist separatism’, whereby children are brought up to reject French values and culture. A brave stand, and a lonely one. Here in France we are wondering what’s happened to our allies.  This is not a problem exclusive to one country. In Europe alone, the UK, Spain and Germany have all fallen victim to Islamist attacks.

In the Lockerbie bombing of 1988, a total of 270 people were killed – all the plane’s passengers and crew plus people on the ground. In the Madrid train bombing of March 2004, 193 were killed and 2000 injured. In the 2005 London suicide attacks (7/7) 52 were killed and more than 700 injured. In December 2016 at the Berlin Christmas market 12 were killed and 56 injured. In August 2017 on Las ramblas in Barcelona  and in the town of Cambrils , 16 were killed and 133 injured. And 2017,  one of the bloodiest years in the UK suffered four attacks (Westminster, London Bridge/Borough Market, Parsons Green and, deadliest of all, the Manchester suicide bomber who, in a similar attack to that on the Bataclan, targeted a pop concert at the Manchester Arena killing 22 people (10 of them under 20) and injuring more than 800, including many children.

Where are those brave enough to speak out and engage in the fight to defend fundamental tenets of western democracy, those universal values and principles whose importance should surely transcend, by far, local and temporal political issues and in-fighting? Douglas Murray, quoting Martin Luther King-‘In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends’-puts the question here, while, in his article,  Ed Hussain describes how political Islam attacks on three fronts.  Agnès Poirier, in a moving piece, talks about French secular education and the regard in which the French hold their history teachers. As for the mealy-mouthed reporting of terrorist atrocities in the anglophone mainstream media (such as The New York Times who chose the headline ‘French Police Shoot and Kill Man After Fatal Knife Attack’ to describe the beheading of Samuel Paty after a social media campaign had whipped up religious hatred against him against him),  Liam Duffy takes on the press here, asking why France is being portrayed as the villain.

In 2015 I wrote a blog in reaction to the killings of 13 November,  quoting the poem by Paul Eluard, ‘Liberté, j’écris ton nom,’  (Freedom, I write your name), re-posted below.

Resist

November 17 2015   

In July I wrote a blog about Paris. It began:

“Just back from two weeks in Paris, the most beautiful and evocative city on earth…City of Light, City of Love… the Seine and its bridges.”

I then went on to talk about a poem:

“…the melancholic poem about love and time by Guillaume Apollinaire that every student of the French Baccalauréat knows by heart, ‘Le Pont Mirabeau’.

On November 13 in Paris a gang of murdering cowards hiding behind Kalashnikovs turned their weapons on families and children enjoying an evening at the restaurant, on football fans enjoying a friendly game, on excited music fans enjoying a rock concert. Their aim was to turn the City of Light into the City of Darkness, the City of Love into the City of Hate and Fear.

It’s doubtful that these brutal, ignorant murderers had ever read Apollinaire’s poem, or indeed any other work of literature. They had surely never thrilled to the verses of Shakespeare, wept at the poetry of Homer; never shared the sufferings of Jean Valjean or Edmond Dantès.

And others like them, lashed to the ideology of terrorism and tyranny, will never, ever, understand why Allied planes, flying over occupied France in World War 2, dropped not just weapons to the maquis: fluttering down from the sky came thousands of copies of a poem, which would continue to inspire and uplift those men and women risking their lives in the fight against Nazi tyranny.

Its title was ‘Liberté, j’écris ton nom’ , Freedom, I write your name.

Written by poet and Resistance member Paul Eluard in 1942, its celebratory stanzas end with the following lines:

Et par le pouvoir d’un mot

Je recommence ma vie

Je suis né pour te connaître

Pour te nommer:

Liberté.

And through the power of one word

I begin my life again

I was born to know you

To name you:

Freedom.

This weekend the Eiffel Tower was cloaked in darkness as the world mourned the victims of November 13th. But the darkness was temporary.

Last night the lights came on again as the Lady put on the colours of the tricolor demonstrating once again the regenerative power of one word:

Liberté.

Paul Eluard Poésie

 

12 thoughts on “Five years On: November 13th 2015”

  1. As ever , Dear Laurette your righteous anger is tempered by your very relevant literary responses from the writers and poets of the past and the very new . Your detailed critique of the recent atrocities in France , sadly replicated in many parts of our World identify the murderous activities of the mainly young men mugged into their activities by their elder ” leaders ” driven on by a perverted religious belief from archaic historic texts that have no use for the poets and free thinkers – sadly , this distorted view of the World is shared by very unhappy and unbalanced ” crazies ” who threaten both the ordinary citizens and those who challenge them in Print and the Mass Media .- Peter T .

    1. Thank you dear Peter F for that long and reflective comment. Your professional regard on the subject in its different dimensions much appreciated. We seem to be living in an age where the right to be different applies to everything except opinion. I have to say, some days it’s hard to remain positive…xx

        1. Having read yesterday the pathetic article by Ben Smith in the NYT about his interview with E. Macron https://www.nytimes.com/fr/2020/11/15/business/media/macron-medias-americains-islam.html
          I can only agree! Maybe we should extend the toast to one used in the 1920s by francophile American writer Elliot Paul in ‘The Last Time I saw Paris’ – ‘Vive la France et les pommes de terre frîtes!’ to which his French friends would reply ‘Vive l’Amérique et le chauffage central (central heating)! 😉

    1. Thank you, merci merci, my dear and wonderful friend, for taking the time to read and comment. After Eluard, another quote, this one specially for you: ‘même la nuit la plus sombre prendra fin et le soleil se levera’ xxx

  2. “Morality is doing right, no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right.”
    – H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
    🙁

    1. Here’s where I confess I have never read him!! But what a great quote, I shall file it away to bring out at intellectual cocktail parties in The Cowshed. Also have put him on my TBR list along with a book I’ve just come across which sounds most intriguing, ‘Adventures in Mythopoeia’ 😉 Many thanks as usual, cher ami!xx

  3. Very emotional blog !
    A lot of bad memories .
    But if I had to hold on to a good one, it s the years I spent , as the MDM, in the Lycée Paul Eluard. At this time we could not imagine the world would become crazy ……..

    1. Merci beaucoup, many thanks Patricia for your heartfelt comment, yes, as you say, being a student in the Parisian Lycée named after the great poet – that really means something, and contrasts with how things are today, alas, when the world has indeed become crazy xx.

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