I’ve never been to war. I’ve protested about many. I’ve never experienced what it must be like. But now I know what it is to be in a country that is at war.
I was in France on Bastille Day when the horrific attack occurred in Nice. It had been two days of celebration. Celebration of the unique French spirit. The evening before the attack we were dancing in the square in Viens, a village not far from Nice. The night was a culmination of a week of village festivities, including the Euro Cup that France went within an inch of winning. I’ve heard a lot about “community” but that week I experienced community in a way that I never had before. All ages, sexes, religions, nationalities letting their hair down in the street together. It was almost as if the street was more often closed off for celebrating than not.
The French celebrating being French in the way they do makes them an easy target for barbaric attackers. They are not, by nature, likely to be looking over their shoulders when they are partying. Or maybe they were not. It is clear that now they must be.
This terrible moment has made me understand, in a small way, what it is to be under attack. To have everything you believe in threatened by an outside force hell bent on destroying you.
This attack was an attack on humanity in all its glorious diversity. This was not an ideological attack on Western values by followers of Islam. This was not a Musilm attack. A leader the French Muslim community called on French Muslims to give blood to the survivors. Listening to this call on the radio as we drove towards Avignon made me think that perhaps the West will finally see that we are not at war with Islam, that this is as much an attack on Muslims as it is an attack on the rest of society.
This is a C21st version of war. A new paradigm exists. One none of us imagined possible. The “enemy” is not easily identifiable. It has no geographic boundaries. It is united in its contempt for humanity and its infinite capacity for acts of barbarity. Slaughtering babies in strollers must be a new low in human depravity.
Being in France the morning after the attack was sobering to say the least. Armed soldiers patrolled the railway station with loaded machine guns. They could have been on patrol in an occupied city in Europe in WW2 or in the jungles of Vietnam. It felt like I was in a war zone.
In the past I have been dubious about security measures. I have thought them over the top, an invasion of privacy. That is because I live in Australia. I have never been under attack.
“In the face of those who seek to impose silence upon us, we propose not to make a single second of silence but to applaud together the forces of life,” – Avignon Festival
But now I will never again question, let alone mock, airport or any other, security. We must resist the temptation to make political capital out of it by erroneously linking it to border protection or the world’s refugee crisis. We must avoid sensationalism and concentrate on identifying and destroying the real targets.
Now I know why my father went to war against Fascism. It destroyed his and my mother’s lives but it made it possible for us to live the lives we live.
We are confronted with similar challenges to ensure that our children and grandchildren can live the lives they deserve to live.
Listening to François Hollande’s simple, eloquent, determined response to the attack in Nice made it quite clear that France will never compromise on its commitment to liberté, égalité,and fraternité. Maybe that’s why the Tour de France continued after the attacks.
The French will never give up their freedoms and nor should we. The statement by the Avignon Festival leaders to artists and audiences read “in the face of those who seek to impose silence upon us, we propose not to make a single second of silence but to applaud together the forces of life”.
The French leaders call to arms was a call to arms against barbarity. Our Muslim brothers and sisters stand shoulder to shoulder with us against an enemy whose roots are in the Middle Ages and who we will defeat.
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