Sunday, 15 November 2015

Paris je t’aime

After the attacks in Paris on Friday, for some reason I keep thinking back to Sarajevo circa ’92. Maybe because of the sudden intrusion of extreme violence in a relatively peaceful place. Maybe because I’ve been to Paris, walked its streets, have friends who live there or are from there. And maybe also because, unlike previous incidents of this type, the targets chosen by the attackers are not the edifices of power and privilege, or the transport networks, nor the source of any specific provocation - but seemingly random targets in the less privileged multicultural, multi-ethnic and anti-establishmentarian neighbourhoods of Paris. They have no particular strategic value (relative to other potential targets), unless the attackers’ aim (or that of their commanders) was precisely to attack that multiculturalism, to sow discord and hatred where there was none before, to tacitly collude with the political forces of the Right and the military-industrial complex to close Europe’s borders and stem the flow of refugees fleeing ISIS on the one hand, and stimulate increased military expenditure on the other.

There is such violence in the world all the time of course, most notably in recent days in Beirut - ironically, a city once nicknamed the ‘Paris of the Middle East’. Yet some of the accusations of racism in the outpourings of solidarity after the Paris attacks seem misplaced. On one hand, because many of us did speak out en masse against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Palestine, etc - even before they happened in some cases. Some key figures in the French government at the time did so too. We all know about the root causes. And I’ve spoken much more about those than about this.

On the other hand, major violence in a place that you have a connection to (material and philosophical), especially if it’s a short train ride away, affects you more on a personal level. I know people there, I’ve been there, I could have been there. I even had a strange sense of foreboding on Friday morning - maybe just because it was the 13th. (It also happens to be a few days before what would have been the birthday of my late dad, from whom I inherited a certain appreciation for Foucault, Deleuze, and other French postwar thinkers whose spirit very much imbues those multicultural and anti-establishmentarian neighbourhoods of Paris.)

There may be an element of self-interest involved in all this, but not racism (unless you’re a supporter of the Front National) - especially since the victims, according to reports, are of at least 15 different nationalities from all over the world. It's not so much about how we value the lives of others, but about how close to home the violence gets, or how connected we are to it.

I won’t pray for Paris because, as one French artist pointed out, on average Parisians aren’t really into religion. Except one, I might suggest - Religion of Love, Church of Rock n’ Roll. In the words of one famous adherent and inhabitant of Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, Jim Morrison (aka the Lizard King):

Do you know how pale and wanton thrillful
comes death on a strange hour
unannounced, unplanned for
like a scaring over-friendly guest you've
brought to bed
Death makes angels of us all
and gives us wings
where we had shoulders
smooth as ravens’ claws

I will not go
Prefer a Feast of Friends
To the Giant Family