The power of symbols is that they come up to enlighten us when we no longer know what to ponder out.
For ten days Paris is mourning her dead, honouring her heroes and licking her wounds. With a question on the lips: “What’s next ?”
In front of the restaurant ‘La Belle Équipe’ nineteen people felt down on Friday 13. Monday they were tens to come to honour them. Many uninjured -or not quite as they try to forget, but the images, they won’t forget at all. Try to sleep when you cannot, reviewing the scenes while horror images permeate the drawers of memory. Nonstop. Lifeless bodies. A “war scene” some said -which some would say is incorrect, but we understand them, we nod, keep silent … and would like to surround them with our arms and comfort them.
Eighty-nine people at the Bataclan. Carnage. First aid and emergency physicians arrive soon, they exhaust all their available pressure dressings in minutes. Outside, relief, support to other victims attacked in the neighbourhoods. The Bataclan area is too dangerous and the organization of the evacuation of the wounded is a daunting task for relief.
And then there are all these orphans since there is a significant number of young parents died.
And then there are those, anonymous or not, who were there at the moment they were needed the most … those who opened their doors to people stuck around the places of the attacks –simple Parisians. But also, and especially, those police officers, firefighters and medical personnel who flocked in a generous impulse, solidarity, more an impulse of humane duty than professional (BRI, RAID, and the military to relieve the police scenario). A duty of humanity, yes, that’s right. They deserve the nation’s gratitude.
But there are also invisible wounds that rescuers, even the most seasoned, are not always prepared to face up: no health professional has seen as many bullet wounds in such a short period of time. But then what’s going to happen ‘after’ –the time of so-called defusing will come: the aid will be extended over time for many survivors, a psychological therapy often provided by the Val-de-Grâce armies service to help all these “collateral” injured to help them evacuate –or learning to live with- images of horror embedded into the retina. It will take time.
All the week out, Paris lived at the rhythm of bomb threats and suspicious packages. Everyone is on guard. With a dose of psychosis, no doubt, but how can you do otherwise?
What not to do after Paris
Paris, my home town, is perhaps the city where I’ve felt most at ease. I’ve never been to Baghdad (where Paris style Islamic State terror events are relatively commonplace); or Beirut, where they just began; or Syria’s ravaged Aleppo (thank you, Bashar al-Assad of barrel bomb terror fame); or Mumbai (which experienced an early version of such a terror attack); or Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, now partly destroyed by the US backed Saudi air force; or Kabul, where Taliban attacks on restaurants have become the norm; or Turkey’s capital, Ankara, where Islamic State suicide bombers recently killed 97 demonstrators at a peace rally. But I have spent time abroad and always came back to Paris. And so, as on November 13, 2015, I find myself particularly repulsed by the barbaric acts of civilian slaughter carried out by three well trained, well organized, well armed suicide teams evidently organized as a first strike force from the hell of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq.
Think of the Islamic State –and various Al Qaeda– crews as having developed (to steal a term from John Feffer) “splinter lands” strategies. To continue to grow, they need the United States and its allies to lend them an eternally destructive hand to further smash the worlds around them. So in response to the Paris attacks, French President François Hollande’s statement that “we will lead a war which will be pitiless” was just what the terror doctor ordered, as was the growing pressure in Washington for a “big military response” to Paris. The first French reprisal air strikes against IS’s Syrian “capital,” Raqqa, were indeed launched within two days.
All of this is like manna from heaven for the Islamic State, the more “pitiless” the better. After all, that group’s goal, as they write in their magazine and online, is “the extinction of the grey zones” in our world. In other words, they seek the sharpening of distinctions everywhere, which means the opening of abysses where complexity and interaction once existed. Their dream is to live in a black-and-white world of utter religious and political clarity (and calamity), while engaging in what American pundits like to term a “clash of civilizations.” And—what a joy for the Islamic State!
In the European context and with the destruction of those “grey zones” in mind, the Paris attacks should also be considered the Islamic State’s first incursion into the politics of the 2017 French presidential campaign. Think of those mass killings as an enthusiastic endorsement of the extremist candidate Marine le Pen, whose poll numbers were already on the rise even before the attacks, and her anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant National Front Party. She is now, effectively, IS’s chosen candidate, the one most likely to go after grey zones. In the process, of course, pressure on France’s large, increasingly isolated Muslim population will only increase.
Such attacks are guaranteed to put wind in the already billowing sails of far-right wing parties all across Europe.