I don’t usually comment on French political events, but this week is different. France, and the world, are under siege. Is this just the beginning of a new normal, or will the world tackle this horrible form of terrorism, in which ‘soft’ targets—innocent civilians, going about their business—are targeted by individuals? Even children are intended victims, and sometimes they are innocent perpetrators, forced into combat. It’s a horrifying and cruel turn of events. Note to Muslim radicals: brutally murdering innocent, unarmed civilians does not lend respect or credibility to your cause in the eyes of the world.
We are in the states this month, so I missed experiencing the French reactions up close and personal. But friends in France tell me the country is bouleversé: confused, perplexed, turned upside down. The worldwide response has been enormous, and the French have made a great showing of solidarity, with three million people taking to the streets. Even in our small town of Cluny, there was a silent candlelight march with a huge turnout that was moving to see on video.
For me personally, the massacre has inspired some soul-seaching, reflection, and research. I’ve been reading a bit about Islam, and contemplating the nature of religion, and how it impacts behavior. Is there something about Islam which inspires such brutal violence, and which fosters the gender inequality of the Muslim culture? Or is this extremism a response to oppression and repression, poverty, discrimination, and other social/political/economic issues? I suspect the latter is true.
What to do about these internal terroists? Well, if President Hollande happens to give me a call to ask my advice, I will tell him to start here: Muslims in France are not well integrated into society, as they are in some other countries. Many live in ghettos, in poverty, around the big cities. Unemployment is high and job discrimination is rampant. And what happens when you have an immigrant population of unemployed, disaffected youth, powerless and excluded from society? It should be a surprise to no one that they turn to violence and crime. The French have known for a long time about this problem, a tough one that hopefully now will get their full attention.
In addition I keep searching and hoping for a strong, concerted response from mainstream Muslims. I am deeply curious about how they perceive these acts, and why they have not protested, en masse. I wonder if their mostly silent response is quiet approval, fear of reprisal, or something else altogether. In any case, their silence is troubling.
I borrowed the photo above from Susan Loomis' post because I like that digital sign about the police, from the Paris Mayor's office: "I am a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian, an atheist. I am French, I am a citizen of the world, I am Charlie." We are all Charlie, we are Everyman, woman and child, searching for peace and freedom.
Favorite Reads: Some other bloggers writing about the events of the past week: Most of you know the French Word a Day blog, and Kristin did a moving post on the subject. I also liked the photos from Susan Loomis' blog, On Rue Tatin. (Susan, by the way, is a the author of the delightful On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town, and teaches cookiing classes in Normandy). The Hip Paris Blog has some good photos of the Paris march as well. Meanwhile Page and Barbara have good reviews of The French House: An American Family, a Ruined Maison, and the Village That Restored Them All for us in the comments section.