I love France! I lived my early teenage years in this country and pursued my secondary and tertiary education in its institutions before I was fortunate enough to do my law studies in the UK. I learnt about its Republican values and its quaint separation of God and Caesar through its evolving concept of laïcité (secularity and secularism somehow kneaded together). Moreover, I enjoyed its many gastronomic delights, watched its many dubbed programmes on the telly and even fell in love for the first time ever with a French student.
So the massacres that were callously perpetrated last Friday did not solely rattle my sensibilities. They created in me a frightening sense of numbness too. But such feelings notwithstanding, I also beg my readers to consider a tad more slowly a few additional reminders:
• Much as it will be quite hard and almost counterintuitive, we should resist the temptation of stigmatising everyone, tarring them with the same radical brush and considering anyone with a dark complexion, or wearing different faiths or apparels and not speaking our languages properly, as a target for our ire and frustration.
• We should take the threats facing us seriously, and adopt a raft of prophylactic measures to fight terrorism fiercely and competently, but we should not forsake the values that we have struggled so hard and so long to imbed into our societies. Or else, we would have lost the qualitative edge and the terrorists would win by preying on our darker sides. Much as we should strengthen our security measures, we need not tinker with the basic freedoms that define our way of life. Lex talionis spares nobody - neither victims nor perpetrators.
• With Europe facing an immigrant tide, we also should not look at all those men, women and children coming from foreign climes as enemies or suspects but rather as victims of the same dangers facing us in our own societies. What we are experiencing today, many of them have experienced for years, and most of them - albeit with some bad eggs - have lost everything and fled their countries from torture, imprisonment, despair and fear.
• Since we repeat that Islam is not the problem, could we then separate the subject from the object of faith? We should therefore expect Muslim scholars, imams and rulers to stand up and speak out more vocally against those who market their religion as a bloodthirsty ideology. We can no longer accept the argument that Muslims are speaking out and we are not hearing them: if we are not hearing them, then they are not speaking out loudly enough! Besides, we cannot keep mum either just because our trade links with Muslim countries would be affected by our outspokenness or else by our reluctance to offend our own communities.
• We will be tempted to go after Daesh/ISIL and in so doing perhaps choose to collaborate with dictators. This is a facile temptation: after all, those dictators did not harm us even though they oppressed their own peoples. On the other hand, sinister organisations like Daesh/ISIL or al-Qaeda have exported the mayhem from their MENA neighbourhoods into our innermost lives. But we must remember here that some of those dictators are the very ones who created the opprobrious terrorism we fight today. Sadly, if we accommodate those dictatorships, they will consolidate their positions and turn against us again to cause more grief.
• If we wish to fight Daesh/ISIL, we must stop thinking as ourselves and start thinking like them. This movement is not an army or a caliphate but a bunch of criminals who wish to cause death and mayhem wherever they can in order to radicalise our societies and then use that very radicalism as a rallying cry for their own warped ideology. Their weltanschauung convinces them that everything happening today is an apocalyptic sign that heralds the end of times. It is not so far from the end-times eschatology of some other movements worldwide. So we need to think like them, and not entrench ourselves in our intellectually-cosseted think-tanks!
• Finally, but critically, let us humbly remember that so many ordinary peoples across the MENA have been living through such massacres every day of their lives. Ask Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, Lebanese, Palestinians and Israelis, Libyans or Egyptians, and the stark fact remains that this is the new normal for many of them. I too share the popular disgust at such appalling attacks, but we surely need to put them in context and understand the causal relationship betwixt those events in the MENA and what we are witnessing on our continent today.
It is not easy for me to overstep raw emotions and think of the broader picture because it engenders in me - in all of us perhaps - a sense of trepidation as to what lies ahead let alone what it reveals about ourselves too. But France today is in a concussed state of melancholy, and I am wary of the blowback that such events in any one EU country could possibly generate across the whole of Europe. So my rallying cry remains one of hope: Fluctuat nec mergitur!