Paris, je t’aime


I have no desire to write about Paris but I have a need. Yesterday, I had something else in mind for today’s 10 minutes but it has all been swept aside by the tragic attack on the City of Lights.

I’ve had the great pleasure of visiting Paris four times in the last few years. I’ve travelled all over the twenty arrondissements and even out to the surrounding banlieus where most working people and immigrants live. The old city is remarkable but even the suburbs have a joie de vivre and sense of history.

Paris is a city designed to be free and open but now it will be shuttered and filled with troops and police. But that won’t last. Paris will reassert her character.

There is no real explanation for these attacks. Nothing will be changed by them, not really. Has New York fundamentally changed in the wake of 9/11? Not that I can see. Has London been transformed by the subway attacks? Did Boston become not Boston after the bombings at the marathon?

There is resilience to freedom that is not easily broken by those who do not understand it, who reject it. ISIL or whatever it is they call themselves this week or next month will never change the West; they will only antagonize it.

After all, ISIL can do no worse to western countries then they have done to themselves. Does anyone think that what happened yesterday was worse than the London Blitz?

I suppose it is easy enough, here in Ottawa, to say Keep Calm and Carry On, but really what else can one say? It will certainly do no good to turn our nation into a police state, to point accusing fingers at innocents, to round up the usual suspects. Okay, we may have to round up some usual and unusual suspects – the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. But we must not let vigilance cost us our freedoms. Otherwise what is it for?

There are those – even in the West – who will argue that we should expect such attacks. They will say that it is the price we pay for interfering in the business of the Middle East, the price we pay for oil. They are, I suppose, half right. The West has to take some culpability for what is happening – we haven’t been blameless and we haven’t always picked our friends wisely. Innocents have died in our attacks.

But never as targets. That takes a special kind of madness.

And we have a duty – set out in international law – to protect the innocent, to intervene when atrocities are done in the name of whatever. Our failure to do that duty led to the genocide in Rwanda. Monstrous behavior cannot go unchecked forever.

I wish I knew the answers. But mostly I am too sad to even think. Paris has been wounded but not slain. The work of cowards will continue; six months or a year from now, there will be another attack. Helpless citizens will die because these so-called warriors lack the courage or the ability to attack targets that are prepared for them. And they will cheer themselves on with cries of victory over the west.

But we will carry on. Because brotherhood, freedom and equality will shine through the dark.

Paris, je t’aime.

And that’s ten minutes.