I happened to be in Paris the week before the so called "Islamic State" launched the concerted terrorist attacks that have engrossed and horrified the world over the last few days, as i walked the streets of the City of Light with my father, an author, educator and lawyer, who co wrote this piece, enjoying the ambience of this the most relaxed of capitals, i could not help becoming aware of the very high level of security that was everywhere in evidence. In the large open space in front of Notre Dame, young soldiers in groups of three patrolled among the long queues waiting to file through the doors of the famous cathedral. It was the same at the other landmark buildings: The Louvre, The Pompidou Centre, The Eiffel Tower, The Arc De Triomphe, were all under surveillance.
It was not that the security presence was obtrusive or threatening, but police vans discretely parked, and other security personnel, on foot or bicycles were a daily feature of city life. Walking through the Tuileries Gardens in front of the Louvre, watching Parisians taking their packed lunches on the metal chairs around the large fountains in the pleasant autumn sunshine. I was taken aback to find myself stepping aside to avoid another foot patrol, machine guns at the ready, always watchful, always on the move. It has been like this since the January attack on the offices of the satirical and irreverent magazine, Charlie Hebdo brought it home to the French that the relaxed tolerance that is characteristic of their attitude to life and religion is not shared by all their countrymen. Never the less, as I stood in front of the Obelisk in the Place De La Concorde, which marks the site where the guillotine stood on which king Louis and his queen Marie Antoinette were put to death some 200 years ago, there was nothing in the air that another series of killings would convulse the city in a matter of days.
When the first explosions went off near the Stade De France where a friendly soccer international was under way most of the attendance had no idea that it was the start of a concerted attack. Not so though the security services however, which immediately whisked president Hollande out of the crowd and away to take command of the military response. The attack on the two cafe bars and the Bataclan Theatre quickly followed; was it just a coincidence that all this happened on Friday the 13th? Just as the world trade center was taken down on the date, 9/11, that is also the telephone number for reporting emergencies? Coincidence or not, this was France's 9/11; the attack on Charlie Hebdo was targeted at the staff, mainly cartoonists, who drew characteurs of the prophet Mohammad, but the attacks on a crowded theatre where the Californian heavy metal band The Angels Of Death Metal was performing, a football crowd, a number of cafe bars that are such a feature of Parisian street life were, like the destruction of the Twin Towers, indiscriminate attacks on the whole society, not on any individuals. The fact that a large number of non French-British, Americans, Chileans, Spanish, Algerians, Portuguese, Romanians, Tunisians, Irish, Belgians and no doubt others- killed and injured underlines the fact that when these terrorists strike, they don't make distinctions between nationalities.
London and Madrid understand the pains of fighting an invisible war against lone rogue religions extremists. Now we must accept that opening our gates out of goodness may have let a wolf in amongst the lambs. Our future remains uncertain but the path we chose can be easily defined by our values of self worth. As Europeans and as Westerners we must stand united and strong and push forward regardless. Greater surveillance and stronger internet monitoring of forums and conversations between attackers and their support network can help. Despite George Orwell's greatest fears. The Islamic community must recognize and reveal their own extremist members to protect not only the values of their own faith but also the futures of their innocent men and woman and children as well as ours. Earlier this year I live reported to millions on the actions of one lone gun man Islamic extremist when he struck my former home in Chattanooga, Tennessee killing American service men. This time I missed the Parisian attacks by a matter of days. How many more terrorist atrocities have to happen in places we live and love that are getting closer and closer to home.