Monday, November 23, 2015
Irony of ironies: People worst affected by the Paris terror outrage are Muslims. The ISIS may be an aberration of Islam, but it shoots and beheads in the name of Islam, it gets finance and weapons in the name of Islam. Naturally, when its brainwashed jihadists machinegun innocent citizens at random, it is Islam that gets the blame.
This became clear within a day of the shootouts in Paris. The refugees flooding into Europe from Syria, most of them Muslims, now have their paths blocked. The cry for stricter border controls is threatening the Schengen concept of visa-free travel. Many states in the US have declared that they will not accept refugees.
Ground realities in Paris are more ominous. When the editorial staff of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo were mowed down by terrorists last January, there were high-spirited appeals from important people in Paris for seeing the peace-loving Muslim majority as distinct from jihadi assassins. Not this time. The French feel betrayed this time. As President |Hollande said: "It is cruel to say that on Friday it was French who killed other French." The pride of the French in their Frenchness has been hurt.
The country's Prime Minister put it more bluntly when, the day after the terrorists struck, he called for "the expulsion of radicalised Imams." Some mosques in Paris have been desecrated. Muslims paying homage to the dead along with other Parisians have been mocked and challenged. The Muslim driver who was ferrying us around Paris failed to turn up when he was due two days after the carnage. He had taken ill, his employers explained.
It was eerie to be in France when Europe's biggest terrorist attack in a decade hit Europe's most glamorous city. So huge is the city of Paris that one or two locations can shudder and shake without other locations feeling anything. This time the shock waves spread instantaneously. Even a small group of students we visited had stories to tell. How some friends escaped miraculously -- and some perished in horror.
For a visitor from India what stood out was the way the Government, the civil society and the media handled the crisis. The Government made clearcut statements such as "France is at war" that reassured the people. There were no half-brained retaliation such as Delhi witnessed in 1984 against the Sikhs, and no half-brained leader trumpeting that when big trees fall, grass gets crushed. The most "provocative" call was for the arrest of all the thousands of citizens in France's notorious S Files, an index of people considered potentially dangerous to the state.
At the level of the people, the rise of resentment against Muslims is a new phenomenon in a country that has accommodated more Muslims than any other country in Europe. Apart from that, grief is expressed with such restraint that it somehow seems deeper. The flowers placed at the public square around the Republique monument had turned into a small mountain within two days, numerous candles glowing brighter than the fabled lights of Paris. A week later people were still spending hours there, quietly standing around, trying to suppress their sobs and not always succeeding. In restaurant windows riddled with gun shots, they had shoved in long-stemmed roses. Car windows sported the French tricolour in defiant pride.
The same dignity and pride marked the way television channels covered the news day after day. There were no national debates with half a dozen wise guys shouting all together, no one calling the terrorists names, no pronouncement on what the nation wanted to know, no snap judgements on all and sundry. There were no closeup shots of dead bodies and pools of blood. Instead, when four, then six and then eight and ten and more victims were identified by the authorities, the channels showed their bright and smiling faces, displayed their names and occupations -- and left it to the viewers to soak in the sadness of it all. There were numerous interviews -- not with politicians and party spokesmen, but with security experts and professors specialised in terrorism. The effort, consistently, was to give people information as distinct from political lectures.
We may have to wait indefinitely before we reach that level of maturity, if at all. Meanwhile, the news is not good. Most experts are of the view that terrorists will strike again. "It may not happen always, but violence will continue," as one put it. The Pope summed it up most poignantly when he said that the Third World War was on.