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Paris attacks: Mealy-mouthed excusers of terror should just shut it

By Fionola Meredith

Published 20/11/2015

Sir Salman Rushdie
Sir Salman Rushdie

You know what people mean when they talk about that Friday feeling. Thank God it's Friday; the pleasurable sense that the drudge and hassle of the working week is coming to an end, the sweet anticipation of the weekend beckons. Last Friday morning people in Paris were waking up and perhaps experiencing that little frisson of joy as they thought about meeting friends for food, drink, music, dancing, maybe a football match.

Later that night 129 of them were cut down by barbarians with Kalashnikovs, and scores more injured. What had they done to deserve this? Nothing, except live a life of liberty in Paris, the first home of free thinking. That was their crime in the eyes of Isis and for that they deserved to die.

Yet even now, even after that monstrous butchery a week ago, some people - out of fear or ignorance or that awful sanctimonious, supercilious piety which passes for modern liberalism - are still refusing to apportion blame squarely where it belongs. There is a quite remarkable amount of equivocation going on.

One of the ways this shows itself, especially in the la-la land of social media, is a fake hierarchy of atrocities in which expressing sorrow for Paris but failing to mention Beirut or Syria sees you instantly slapped down as a crass cultural imperialist. Others mutter darkly about self-regarding elites or French militarism or racist provocations, or they rail wildly against religion itself. Why is it so hard to come out and say that this was wrong - now, always, forever - in every possible sense? No ifs, no buts, no circuitous justifications. Just wrong.

Following the Charlie Hebdo massacre initial horror - and passionate iterations that we were all Charlie, united in solidarity - was swiftly replaced by a prevailing attitude that the French cartoonists had somehow brought it upon themselves by sneering at Muslims.

This pusillanimous tendency reached its nadir when six well-known writers withdrew from the PEN awards in New York in protest at PEN's decision to honour Charlie Hebdo. Author Peter Carey, one of them, said that "a hideous crime was committed, but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about?".

In response Salman Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after a fatwa was issued against him, said that "if PEN as a free-speech organisation can't defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organisation is not worth the name".

Surely such mealy-mouthed excuse-making couldn't happen this time round, could it? The friends sitting down to dinner in a Parisian bistro, the mother taking her young son to see a band at the Bataclan theatre: they hadn't drawn mocking pictures of the Prophet Mohammed. What reasons could be found for their murders?

Yet sure enough, even here, even now, the default recourse to equivocation began. Barely were the bodies cold when the independent Irish TD Mick Wallace tweeted that the killings were "terrible for the victims, but when is France going to stop its role in the militarisation of the planet?" Later another independent TD, Clare Daly, tweeted that it was a "tragedy beyond belief… everyone's thoughts with victims but it's always the right time to ask why or it will go on".

A hideous crime, but... Terrible for victims, but… Tragedy beyond belief, but…

When are the excuses going to stop? Hand-wringing appeasement or well-meaning attempts at understanding do nothing to restrain nihilistic death cults (neither does a mad blitzkrieg of bombing, but that's another story).

The truth is the terrorists who committed last Friday's outrages don't care whether their victims are anarchic old cartoonists or little boys at a rock concert with their mum. As far as they are concerned they are all profligate pagans who must be wiped out, or at the very least terrified into submission. It was grotesque for anyone to imply there could be an iota of justification, in any case.

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks Rushdie wrote: "This issue has nothing to do with an oppressed and disadvantaged minority. It has everything to do with the battle against fanatical Islam, which is highly organised, well-funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, into a cowed silence."

Who, or where, is Charlie now? We must speak out strongly for the Enlightenment values of liberty and democracy, otherwise we all risk going under.

Belfast Telegraph

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