Belfast Telegraph

Paris attacks: Face facts, this is a battle that must be fought to the end

By Gail Walker

If there is a reason Isis or IS or Daesh and their ilk hate Paris, it has little to do with French bombing operations in Syria. The massacre of ordinary men and women as they ate, talked, listened to music wasn't because of what Paris had done; it was because of what Paris is.

And Paris is the quintessential symbol of freedom. At its lowest caricature, France is the home of sexual freedom and general bolshiness. The French love to discuss, to argue, to chat, to be - in their chic Gallic way - thran.

The modern West was born in the rues and avenues of Paris. The freedoms we enjoy today, the lives we live and so rarely question, are the result of the Enlightenment and the following French Revolution.

It was in the streets of Paris that the modern cry for individual liberty, the right to think, the right to express, the right to question, was heard. Paris is nothing but the idea of ideas.

In other words, it is everything that barbarians (and I use the word in the sense of being an enemy of civilised values) hate. And the fact is: the values of democratic elections, universal suffrage and education, free speech, freedom of the Press, religious freedom - all the greats - are, in fact, better than the values of other cultures and political systems which seek to shrink and shrivel individual rights.

And for that fact alone Paris should bear its scars proudly.

Even though we know better than most the kind of grief the bodies lying in those same streets, in the restaurants and the concert hall, brought to innocent homes. Even though we may look back now at how we lived during the Troubles and marvel that we had the sheer nerve to stroll through town centres and drink in bars - and think that we could never have that steely resolve and determination again.

We should unequivocally support the French, not just in their hour of need through easy gestures (and, yes, that does include changing your Facebook avatar to the tricolour) but if France decides to strike back by increasing the bombing in Syria. We cannot quibble, we cannot prevaricate, we cannot start second guessing them or becoming armchair generals forever advocating caution and inaction.

We have to stand shoulder to shoulder because we cannot complacently presume that this is merely a battle of ideas and that Western values will ultimately somehow prevail.

Whether the pen is truly mightier than the sword is open to debate. But, just in case, we should have a pen in one hand and a sword in the other - to adapt a certain well-known phrase from around these parts.

As the news broke late on Friday, there was a palpable sense of despair and helplessness. Beneath the condemnation, there ran a sense of incomprehension - how can you fight what you can't understand? How can you win? There was even the beginnings of that corrosive western 'liberal' equivocation that only marches us all in to nightmare - somehow, if only France didn't bomb Syria, the attacks wouldn't have happened.

This is the kind of cute, plausible argument put forward by the secret fanatics behind Isis - the ones who NEVER kill themselves for the cause - in order to disperse Western opposition. Those many people killed in Beirut Thursday last, with the same tactics as Paris, weren't "bombing Syria", any more than cafe-goers and shoppers do anywhere.

But the argument does still sway many in Britain, especially those on the Left, whose cries for "military intervention when it suits us" on the one hand and "not my war" on the other have never properly been exposed.

No wonder Isis have faith that they will eventually win. We are in danger of becoming weak, effete almost, not able to comprehend anyone who doesn't want to be like us.

Maybe the time has come to stiffen our moral sinews and just acknowledge brute facts: with Isis there is nothing to negotiate, there is no possible fudge, no cans to be kicked down the road. This is a fight to the finish. Either they win and throw us back to the dark ages or we win.

The clarity should be exhilarating but you feel that many are frightened, baffled, paralysed while looking for nuances to hide behind, factors to be factored in and any opportunity to go back to the general policy of masterful inactivity.

And only knuckle-dragging idiots confuse Isis with the general Muslim community. We know that the main victims of Isis are Muslims in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. We know that Muslims are as frightened of Isis as we are.

Belfast Telegraph


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