After the Paris attacks. A letter to my daughter, Lou Hart.
Sophie and Constance are shaken, S more moved by all the calls from kin and friends, poring over images of the carnage, but also thinking of what it means to be gunned down in a bar, asking why people would throw down blankets to cover the dead, but not come down to do it themselves. C was very agitated last night, now working out her instagram message.
I was reminded how safe we are in this apartment. I retweeted a clip from the stadium and people thought I was there. I can’t bear this latest fad to declare yourself safe in a Nepal earthquake. It’s an extension of the daily TV news: disasters in three places — thank god it wasn’t me. Now amplified by projecting personal insecurity onto people you know where the disasters happen. Maybe it’s human compassion, a sentiment not to be underrated. But I fear that this sentimentality will be exploited by the powers to escalate their controls over society, not least against the North Africans.
The fact is that the French killed 1 mn people in the Algerian war of independence, the second genocide they got away with (the other being Vichy). They have now made themselves the US’ closest ally in bombing North Africa and the Middle East, invading Mali, Central African Republic etc. In radio discussions here no-one ever questions their right to do this. They might ask how much it all costs. Western Europe has been neighbour to wars and revolutions in the East and in the Mediterranean for several decades, some instigated by them and the Americans. They have been insulated from the consequences so far. No longer, with this war at home, the refugee crisis and Putin. Not going to save the euro, is it? In addition the French have been militantly anti-religious, banning the veil in public etc. There are up to 2 mn Algerians in France, being harrassed daily by the cops in the suburbs, targeted for racist attacks in the South by the National Front (now bidding for majority power). France is the most depressed country in Europe (30%, Britain second); its economy and politics are stagnant, going down.
I see some hope that this conflict (which has only just begun) will lead to political change within France and with its neighbours. But more likely there will be a security crackdown, as after 9/11, and people will acquiesce in another notch towards fascism. These messages of sympathy to people of your own kind have an echo in a Guardian headline today: Secular land that has lost so many to radical Islam, in other words us vs them, no mention of how many muslims have been killed by the French in their murderous colonial and postcolonial campagins or of how hard it is to be a muslim youth in contemporary France — unemployed, harrassed by police, demonised as threatening aliens. Well it’s going to get worse, but eventually perhaps something other than a delusive politics of evasion will come out of it.
Sophie describes this as cynical. She told me as she went out for yoga, don’t be cynical in your replies. So maybe writing all this to you will reduce the chance of being cynical with others. I call it realism. You have to see the world as it is, look it in the eye, and still find room for hope. I do have hope for a better world and expect to write towards that end, but not without much more conflict than this. I care about you and Constance, especially her, entering this world as a teen with none of the advantages we had. I have to find a way of opening her eyes without depressing her. And yours perhaps.
Response to a critic on Facebook:
It seems that what matters to X is what he himself thinks and feels. What I wrote is for him merely an opportunity for subjective self-expression. There is no attempt to analyze the text itself, just a projection from it, nor to figure out what is going on and what might be an appropriate response. I have lived here with my family for two decades. The events are shocking, but we have to live with the political consequences. France maintains an imperialistic culture, not unlike Britain or the United States, but amplified by a tragic sense of having lost its place at the centre of the world. I am not the only one who believes that Hollande’s bellicose decision to escalate is bad news for all of us, not just the Muslim residents. We have already had public freedoms curtailed — public buildings closed, cinemas, stores etc; residents refused exit from the area near the attacks.
Meanwhile there is a flood of sentimentality manifested as concern for the victims and anyone who happens to live nearby. I was declared safe on Facebook by someone in London who hardly knows me and 80 people endorsed this factoid. And morality! What is moral about hating Isis or oil drilling in the Arctic for that matter? Morality involves persons facing tough decisions in their own lives, struggling to think and do what is good. My post was written to my daughter and was very much motivated by concern for her teen sister who lives in Paris. I think, read and write all the time about the contents of that letter. What happened this week triggers off reflections with a deep history. That is the domain of morality, not sounding off about abstractions that you don’t know. It is also — and that was my point — a time for political argument, even though my girls shared in the mass psychology that has obscured the meaning of the Paris attacks and our future prospects.