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.
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:
And through the power of one word
I begin my life again
I was born to know you
To name you:
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:
17 thoughts on “Five years On: November 13th 2015”
A very emotional and well-voiced post, Laurette. Thank you for writing about it. Voltaire’s quote is powerful and much needed in today’s times. Yes, extremists don’t have a place in civilized society because they want to control the world’s narrative. They’re showing their weaknesses and vulnerabilities when they silence others. That goes for anyone who doesn’t uphold the Freedom of Speech and Expression.
Unfortunately, French allies have trouble coming forward because they allow the control of freedom of speech in their own countries.
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ― George Washington
“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.” ― Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman’s quote resonates a lot in the U.S. Freedom of Speech in the U.S. has been challenged and attacked, not necessarily physically but verbally or they have silenced the opposition. We’ve witnessed a great amount of censorship and suppression regarding freedom of speech based on political beliefs. Facebook and Twitter are huge offenders in the liberal’s quest to squash other voices and ideas. Not only that, Facebook has also interfered in other country’s elections – Facebook Influenced Elections in 66 Countries (https://cdn.repub.ch/pdf/2018/05/16/facebook-influenced-elections-in-66-countries.pdf)
“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” ― Benjamin Franklin
People are condemned within 140 characters and have lost their jobs over it. We no longer have the patience for having a bad day, differences of opinions and beliefs, hence the culture wars. If your opinion veers away from the mainstream acceptance, you’re shamed and condemned.
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ― George Orwell
“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.” ― Benjamin Franklin
I’m not trying to downgrade the seriousness of these terrorist killings. I guess what I’m trying to say, which might not be coming across well, is the similarities in squashing freedom of speech from political strongholds, culture wars, and terrorism. Of course, bloodshed is much more horrific. Terrorists want to control. Political parties want to control. People also want to control their neighbors. All of these groups and people just go about it differently.
“Free speech is not to be regulated like diseased cattle and impure butter. The audience…that hissed yesterday may applaud today even for the same performance.” ― William O. Douglas
Has freedom of speech turned into a privilege rather than a right?
Denise, this was such a powerful and heartfelt comment I think you should publish it as a piece on your blog. Yes, I completely understand your point about different forms of terrorism; like you I am also outraged about the victimisation on social media (‘condemned with 140 characters’ as you rightly call it) of those who wish to offer alternative opinions to those of the social justice warrior brigade intent on punishing (to quote Orwell again) ‘thoughtcrime’. You’ve mentioned on your own blog the censorship of certain authors in schools; the trend continues with former poet Laureate Ted Hughes recently added to the British Library’s ‘slavery dossier’ because a remote ancestor 300 years ago had colonial ties. You’ll remember the open letter in Harpers Magazine this summer signed by 150 people (including JK Rowling Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie) denouncing ‘the restriction of debate’, followed shortly by Bari Weiss’s resignation letter to the NY Times citing the kow-towing of senior editors to the woke mob: ‘Twitter is not on the masthead of the New York Times..But Twitter has become its ultimate editor.’ Just this last month in the UK columnist and polemicist Suzanne Moore (Orwell Prize 2019) ‘resigned’ from The Guardian when 338 of her colleagues complained to the editor that she was ‘transphobic’. Recently the executive director of Amnesty International has put his name to a letter demanding the silencing of anyone who criticises transgenderism ‘we call for an end in giving airtime to their despicable brand of harassment…we call on media, and politicians to no longer provide legitimate representation for those that share bigoted beliefs’ (ie those who seek to ‘defend biology’). I remember the time when both the NY Times and The Guardian (The Manchester Guardian) were beacons of free thought; I also remember that when I joined Amnesty International and started writing protest letters to authoritarian governments quashing free speech the organisation had the Voltaire quote as part of its masthead. It now appears to have gone. Thanks so much for your brilliant comments, the quotes and the link to the article about Facebook (which I read with amazement).
A right or a privilege indeed…xxx
Thank you so much. Do you mind if I reblog your article next week on my blog? I’ll have to figure it out if I can put a link to your blog or put the entire article on my blog. I think it’s a great article and worth repeating and sharing.
Thanks so much, I’d be honoured Denise, but I do hope you include your own comment in full (and perhaps my reply to that) if you copy/paste rather than putting a link – it seems to me an excellent way of sharing our thoughts and interacting – just what we love about blogging!!! Whatever you decide ;-)xx
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 .
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
Vive La France !
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)! 😉
Il fallait rappeler et tristement célébrer ces terribles évènements and as usual you did it, so beautifully. Thank you Laurette
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
“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)
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
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 ……..
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.
A beautiful, heartfelt post.
Pamela, thank you so much, grazie mille, for your support, we share common values, as I know from your writing xx