HOW the world has changed in a week. If we could turn the clock back seven days, would we have given the citizens of Paris a second thought as we rushed about our own daily business?
Would we have even considered turning our Facebook profiles the red, white and blue of the Tricolore? Or thought for a minute about an American rock band called the Eagles of Death Metal?
Would we be contemplating the possible threat to our own personal security the minute we walk out of our own front door?
Would we wondering amongst ourselves about the kind of people coming to this country from troubled states, people who might have a murderous grudge against Westerners in the name of a cruel and intolerant version of a peaceful religion?
The siege at the Bataclan music venue, the explosions at the Stade de France and the cold-blooded shootings in the bars and restaurants last Friday night; these were not targets chosen at random. Each one had a purpose, it was designed to show that the things we Europeans enjoy – a drink after work before the weekend, a restaurant meal with friends, a football match with our children, tickets for a concert – are not safe and should never be taken for granted again.
That Friday the 13th changed the world. Not just for a week, but forever. The globe will keep turning, but the pieces just won’t fit. It is like a crazy jigsaw, or a half-remembered nightmare. Only this situation is all too real. Daily incidents, raids and arrests continue to remind us that the threat from Islamic extremists is not lessening or chastened. It continues, with no end in sight.
I don’t wish to sound selfish, given that so many people have died, but the question is where does this leave us? I can think of many words that might describe our state of mind; angry, sad, frustrated, vengeful, but the one word which sums it all up is “powerless”.
We feel let down by world leaders and politicians who tie themselves into knots over offending delicate sensibilities.
This is exacerbated as the situation is so complicated, with the ever-shifting allegiances and power struggles of terrorism making a mockery of our understanding. It is difficult for us to get a grip on it, so we rely on our leaders to make decisions on our behalf with information that only they are party to. And when these decisions appear weak or hesitant, we feel even more let down and confused.
It is clear, though, that this serious threat to our way of life demands serious political commitment. If this means contemplating an alliance with countries which we’re scared of – China or Russia – then this is a risk our politicians must take. This is surely preferable to the endless squabbling and point-scoring in the House of Commons every time there is a vote on whether Britain should order air-strikes over Syria.
At the very least, we need a united front from our politicians. And in this solidarity, ordinary people are showing the way. Why else did my Facebook feed turn red, white and blue in a matter of hours? To show fraternity with the French, and to make a personal stand.
It’s a way of proving to the terrorist bullies – and to the world leaders who can’t come up with a solution – that the collective faith of humanity is stronger than any political cause.
The most moving post I have read is from a young woman caught in the Bataclan attack, who lay amongst dead bodies for more than an hour to protect herself.
Social media is a wonderful way of wresting back the power that we feel ebbing away. It’s democracy in action. Most impressive are the young Muslims taking to YouTube to decry the murderous acts carried out in the name of their religion. This requires courage, a quality which is not always forthcoming from our politicians.
However, as with all power, it has the potential to become twisted. And not always in the way you might expect. I don’t want to be bullied by well-meaning “friends” who attempt to tell me what I should and should not think about tolerance. Too much hand-wringing over conscience and doing the right thing has helped to get our world into this mess.
I don’t wish to read a lecture on human rights every time I log onto my account either. And although I turned my own Facebook picture red, white and blue because I chose to, I don’t like the reports that I heard of people being bullied and derided for choosing not to do likewise.
If anything good can come of what is happening though, it is that we are thinking about and discussing matters that we probably never thought would trouble us.
This affects us all. My teenage son was watching the news the other night and turned to us with a grave face. He asked: “Are we actually in a world war?” My partner replied: “No, but we living in a world at war.” He is right. So let us pull together, wrest back our power and not fall out amongst ourselves.