Can Europe Make It?

When words have meaning and history goes both ways

The massive police hunt for French Islamic terrorists responsible for the attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, January 7, has come to a bloody end this Friday afternoon.

Patrice de Beer
9 January 2015
Demonstration of solidarity after Charlie Hebdo attacks, January 7.

Demonstration of solidarity after Charlie Hebdo attacks, January 7.Yann Korbi/Demotix. All rights reserved.The massive police hunt for the two French Islamic terrorists responsible for the massacre of twelve people, cartoonists, staff and policemen, during the attack of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, January 7, has come to a bloody end this Friday afternoon.

The two brothers Kouachi, reputedly acting in the name of Al Qaeda, who were on the run and had taken a hostage in the north of Paris, have been killed by security forces. At the same time, Amedi Coulibaly, another terrorist and member of the Kouachi group who had murdered a policewoman on Thursday morning, was killed in the east of Paris after slaughtering hostages in a kosher shop. He was one of five reported dead. Other hostages are severely wounded, while a female accomplice has been taken into custody.

Loved or criticised for its often borderline anti-establishment cartoons, Charlie Hebdo's caricaturists have accompanied the lives of millions of Frenchmen for decades. The magazine was, to quote a humorist at work from the thirties to the fifties, Pierre Dac, “For everything which is against and against everything which is for” (“Pour ce qui est contre and contre ce qui est pour”). A humour all establishments hate but have had to live with. But also a humour fundamentalists of every ilk are unable to understand and hate even more in the proportion to which it holds them up for public ridicule, whoever they are. And, as we say, “Ridicule kills”!

In a world where words far too often lose their meanings or are twisted, not only by politicians, ideologies or religions, but also by fashion and advertising - how many times have we heard that this product was “to die for”? - the attack on Charlie reminds us that words still have a meaning: yes, you can still “die for” ideas or ideals!  And also be killed for them by criminals who probably never bothered to read it. And that, in our virtual world of video games, movies or TV series. Twelve lives have been gunned down in Paris by fanatics, mad men, or both, as the line between fanaticism and madness gets thinner and thinner.

This column is not a dedication to colleagues I did not know personally, who have entered onto the stage of history as martyrs to press freedom. Many have been written by people who had much better reasons to express their sorrow, anger, emotion or distress and I have no right to jump on the bandwagon. It is a reminder that life is still real, that we have lived far too long in a protective cocoon which - thanks to economic growth and NATO/US protection since WWII – kept us at arms length from a world of violence and poverty where wars were developing by proxy, as in Vietnam between the USA and the Communist bloc.

In recent decades, we have been told about globalisation as the cure for diseases through the world, economic, social, political or other. That distances would be shortened between producing countries and far away markets, that the rise of newly developed countries like China, Brazil or South-East Asia would at the same time attract our products while drowning our domestic markets with cheaper consumer goods which would give work to millions of impoverished Asian farmers. Or that the oil sheikdom's money would flow in our coffers.  In short, the world has shrunk and far away problems are now two hours and less than €100 away.

Obscene fortunes have been made by individuals and multinationals in this new world where the traditional tyranny of distance has been eradicated. But history always goes both ways. Our standards of living are attracting millions of legal and illegal immigrants, sometimes dying in ghastly conditions. And, as much as our development has impacted on these countries, often for the better, their own problems – which they have been unable to cope with and to which we have for too long closed our eyes as long as oil was flowing steadily and these regimes were only quietly killing their own citizens within their own borders, and did not have aggressive designs on their neighbours – have now crept through the Mediterranean. And, first in line, Islamic fundamentalism.

9/11 was the first shock, although Islamic terrorism had already killed and was silently infiltrating Muslim communities in Europe and North America. In 1995-6 twelve people had been killed and hundreds others wounded by bombings in the Paris metro perpetrated by Algerian fundamentalists of the GIA. It took ten years for Britain to extradite back to France their master-minder, Rashid Ramda. Cooperation has improved since in countries targeted by Al Qaeda or Daesh. But we will have to learn to live with this new insecurity. And not only through legislations that are discriminatory or violations of human rights like those under the Bush administration, which only create new problems.

And we will have to do away with those petty political games, whether domestic or international, we love to revel in. In France, the very next day after the Charlie Hebdo attacks – in which two Frenchmen of Muslim origin were butchered alongside the other victims, national unity behind the victims began to wither. Political bickering within the ruling Socialist Party and former right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP exploded on the question of whether the National Front should be invited to join the mass demonstration organised for this Sunday. Mostly posturing in line with their intra-party rivalries, pro or against President Hollande, pro or against Sarkozy. So, the National Front, pretending they had not been officially invited, withdrew. This was immediately followed by the withdrawal of Ms Marine Le Pen’s extreme-left counterpart, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, according to whom the French government had no right to organise this protest. All this while the blood of twelve people was still drying! Will our politicians ever rise to the situation!

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