The dark night just got darker
The 19 lives that were lost in Paris in the week that has gone by were all precious – including the three Islamist terrorists - because life in its very nature is worthwhile when lived. Death disrupts the narrative of life and the world as we know it, cannot survive, if people were to fall lifeless. This may sound pacifist, especially coming from someone who journalistically covers subjects like Defence and Security Strategy.
If one views the events in France in the past week a little more dispassionately, there are three strands that become visible – social, cultural and of course, security. But the social and cultural aspects of the incidents that took place are diametrically opposite to the security element. Let’s look at republican France from the perspective of a nation that has generated a large number modern ideas, which dominated the ‘new man’. The man here transcends the gender divides that we have.
French Revolution against feudalism gave the world the concepts of ‘liberte,’ ‘egalite’ and ‘fraternite’ as early as in 18th century. Close to the end of the 19th century, France gave the world a glimpse of what man could do for ‘its’ own future during the short, fleeting days of the Paris Commune. Fifth republic France have given the world Albert Camus who could write the ‘Outsider’ – a reading of which could give one a sense of emptiness that can be called a precursor to the post-modern world where man is an ‘it,’ objectified.
Said and Cherif Kuoachi, the two Islamists who killed ten journalist-cartoonists of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, wanted to show their anger not on the failure of France’s cosmopolitanism in not including them in the schema. Yet, their act of killing Hebdo journalists – for lampooning Hazrat Mohammad in the nude – clearly shows that the social and the cultural influences of France have become mostly lost.
What has emerged in the form of information is that France’s six million Muslims – a large number from Algeria, a former colony - have sent at least 2000 of their brethren to fight in the global Islamist jihad. They form the crater of a volcano, which spews fire.
Why is it that France of fun, frolic, food, and haute couture have not been able to build a desire in them to be a part of the mainstream – a sign of life lived in a certain way? Why is it that the Kuoachis missed out on gaining the gloss that France represents, and had obviously empowered the Hebdo journalists to shine through their intellect a desire to challenge all emotions and sentiments.
The question that arises at this stage is a more fundamental and material issue. Do all satirists and cartoonists be killed for their personal insights of life? Naturally that cannot be a sensible way of looking at the ‘other’ – as enemies. But what was it the Hebdo cartoonists trying to do by depicting an unclothed Mohammad, though they knew expectedly that Islam, like Christianity, have some people’s blind faith and it could rile them. But then that is cosmopolitanism: it is a market-place of ideas as well, where the contrary exists. It is a primary constituent of ideas like democracy.
But Said and Cherif did not look at it that way. Why did they fall through the crevice? One can say that capitalism is exclusionary, while at the same time attempting to homogenise, so people have some common markers, by which a production line can be devised. This may sound philosophical but it also is cold, hard reality.
An even more realistic vision can be the security angle that will now visit France. This is the reality that exists across the English Channel in Britain with all its omnipresent security cameras, GCHQ surveillance, metadata of the engagement of people with the cyber world etc. There is also the vision across the Atlantic Ocean, in the USA, where the police are so militarised that they could suffocate to death a potential ‘perpetrator’ just by an arm-lock.
France in all its materialist emancipation did still have some kind of innocence, which it lost last week. It will now bristle with all those equipment; have more gendermarie, its intelligence agencies more invasive. And no longer will French question the existence of NATO tasks in Somalia, Yemen etc.
The French colonial brutality will re-emerge: from behind the gloss and the bright lights. Camus who recanted on his communism, if he came back to life, would now have looked less at the ‘Outsider’ or would now have looked at the ‘other’ as an enemy, and not as someone who could have become a protagonist of his novels. Capitalists in France will now become more rapacious; they have found a clearly defined enemy on which now there is a national consensus. Said, Cherif have brought out the sub-text of French life that lay buried in all the cultural pretensions of ‘cosmopolitanism.’
The author is a senior journalist