After Paris

From my windows I can see the London Eye lit up in the stripes of the French tricolore, as it was last night.

Tricolore Eye

Tricolore Eye


I am shocked and saddened by what happened in Paris on Friday night. I haven’t listened to the radio today, watched the television or read news updates online, so I hope that there have been no more bloody incidents.

On Friday night watching the news, I listened disbelievingly as a member of the US military said that the death of Mohammed Emwazi would be a blow to ISIS. From all accounts Emwazi was a sad and rather pathetic creature. He lacked self-esteem, was teased at school for having bad breath and all footage of him in his teenage years shows him covering his mouth with his hands or a convenient piece of clothing. In other words, a perfect candidate to be groomed by people who would exploit his neediness. As Jihadi John, the knife wielding horseless man of the apocalypse, he inspired a fearful respect; a seemingly pitiless executioner, he was also a victim. Sadly, ISIS probably has already filled his shoes with some other recruit desperate to be regarded as important. Who mourns Emwazi? His family, one hopes, but probably no one else.

James Foley’s mother, interviewed when the news broke, expressed no joy at his death. Others have voiced concerns at this extra-judicial killing. True it would be have been hard to have arrested him and tried him at the Old Bailey, but this year we have been celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, which is all about the rule of law. We do not have the death penalty in this country, so this deliberate hunting down and killing appears doubly illegal.

I think it also plays into the terrorists’ hands. Our morals are shown to be elastic. ISIS, like fundamentalists of other religions, operates in a black and white world. Its members believe they, and only they, are right; they have read and understood the Qu’ran. To the end of hastening the end of the world and killing all who are not true believers, the slaughter of people out to enjoy an evening in Paris at a football match, a restaurant or a rock concert, is all part of a just cause.

It’s not just ISIS, or even fundamentalists, who use religious texts to justify violence or bigotry. How many times have you heard Leviticus cited by those who oppose gay rights? And how often have women been told that the Bible makes clear they are subordinate to men? In the Old Testament women are even denied souls. Mother had a very annoying habit of ending family arguments with a biblical quotation.

We say we are a Christian country; that our culture is based on Christian beliefs even if most of the population is no longer credent or practising. Now, I had a Christian upbringing. I heard the gospels every day of my school education. And over and over we learned that God is Love; that Christ told us to love our neighbours as ourselves; to turn the other cheek; to pray for those who persecute us. I must admit that I find all these things more than hard, and although I consider myself formed by Christianity, and hold much of its teachings dear, I am not a believer. I fantasise about revenge on those, like my ex-boss, who have wantonly injured me and those dear to me. My current favourite fantasy involves putting them altogether in the Big Brother House. Now, that I would watch.

But I do think Christian teaching gives us food for thought when faced with situations such as these. Christianity is not about vengeance (though if you look at the history of the Christian church you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise). Somehow I don’t think bombing ISIS held territory to bits, satisfying though it might seem in the short term, is a solution. I don’t mean we should be neutral either, but we need to understand and be true to our own moral compasses in how we (re)act.

The news that one of the Paris terrorists held a Syrian passport and entered Europe via Greece will doubtless be used by some to argue that we should not accept refugees, and by Teresa May to garner support for her Snoopers’ Charter.

It’s all very depressing.

Nothing will bring those killed on Friday back. All we can do is to reach out and create community; remember that we are all human; that race and creed and politics are secondary to the need to love and respect one another. So I was delighted to read in the Guardian yesterday that the Isle of Bute is preparing to welcome fifteen refugee families imminently. I am agog to know what they will make of the weather, but the story gave me a renewed faith in humanity that was very much needed.

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12 thoughts on “After Paris

  1. I saw some French flags flying in the neighborhood this morning. Interesting that you got a US military type saying the death of Jihadi John would be a blow to ISIS – what I heard over here was that it wouldn’t make much difference. Different messages for different markets? This is one of those very unnerving times where we have no choice but to hope our world leaders aren’t completely crazy.

    • Maybe to soften us up as we learned the RAF was also involved.
      As you know, we are nowhere as keen on flying flags as on your side f the pond, but I do wonder how people can suddenly produce the appropriate flag at a moment’s notice. Do they keep a supply of spares rolled up in the gararge?

    • Sad and shocking, and I think we’re going to see more incidents like this. History teaches us that these things pass, but goodness only knows how long it will take.

  2. Sadly I can’t see how what is happening with ISIS can be managed without significant further bloodshed – whether an active or passive role is taken.

    Time and again history shows “an eye for an eye” leads to escalation but I fear how “turning the other cheek” would be interpreted by this group. The whole situation is horrific. They may have read some of the Qu’ran but, in the way of all who use religion as a basis for establishing dominance over others, their interpretation of the message and intent of an ancient religious text is for their own end.

  3. Very thoughtful and well put, Isobel. Unfortunately, I think ISIS want to divide us to rule us, and how we can stop that happening is beyond me. I don’t think they’re people one can reason with. As you said, their view of the world is black and white. And they have no qualms about killing people to establish their dominance and encourage more young men to join them. I think we’re in for a tough and difficult time.

    • I think turning the other cheek does not mean lying down and preparing to be slaughtered. It is about standing firm in our beliefs, in continuing to celebrate and enjoy a multi-faith, multi-cultural society. To be muslim in Europe at the moment must be very very tough. Reports from Paris today showed that muslim taxi drivers were not getting fares. I agree with you that the aim of ISIS is to divide and rule us. We do not have to play their game. Whatever we do, in the short term, at least, there will most likely be more killings. It’s the long term we need to think about. Nobody would claim that a successful multi-cultural society is easy to acheie or that it can be established overnight, but as the song has it, united we stand, divided we fall. Let’s work together.

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