Irish expat David Burns writes:
[Police officer who tried to apprehend terrorists on Boulevard Richard le Noir was buried today — received Légion d'Honneur. Wrote the attached because I cycle past where he died every day now...]
When can you justify killing another human being? When it’s in self defence? Whenit’s to protect the lives of others? To defend a cause? Last Wednesday, three men burst into the Paris-based office of a small French weekly called Charlie Hebdo and started shooting at unarmed cartoonists. 17 people are now dead because gun-wielding extremists believed it right to kill people for an ideology. If you live here, your relation to violence has been completely changed by that— changed utterly.
A significant amount of people started defending last week’s bloodshed before those murdered could even be given a funeral. The apologists ranged from the pseudo-intellectual type to the brutally ignorant. All remained unconvincing. What excuse can there be for violence against the non-violent? For shooting cartoonists? You could understand a debate on the merits of Charlie Hebdo as a satirical publication.
Last Friday, the French press reported with outrage the refusal of certain schoolkids to rally behind the slogan for national unity: “Je suis Charlie”. At the same time though, you could understand it. Muslims unwilling to rally to the name of a magazine that had long ridiculed Muhammad; students questioning authority; young people from disadvantaged areas rejecting long overdue invitations to play a part in French society — all of that constitutes an understandable reaction to current events. But posting messages which condone or call for violence against unbelievers? Celebrating the “heroism” of radical men prepared to kill for their religion or their cause? That is beyond the bounds of reasonable or understanding. I cannot agree to it. Or anything like it.
In Ireland, we are about to celebrate 1916. If you’d been here the last few days, you wouldn’t see anything to celebrate about it. There is nothing inspiring about armed radicals with bullets. Not even when they’re proclaiming a republic. Former Taoiseach John Bruton came under fire last year for saying that peaceful, political reform was the nobler route to Irish independence. Now, much more so than before, I can see he was right.
It is doesn’t seem imaginable at the moment to celebrate a rising that held Dublin city to hostage. It is no longer a historic event anymore. It is not just a book explaining why it needed to happen or why the rebels felt they had no choice or even how it was justifiable in the end. It doesn’t matter if you’re born into a system which acts to oppress you and the people you identify with, you don’t have an excuse to grab a gun and go out to shoot people. Not even if you’re hoping to awake the nation.
I’ve followed a lot of the back and forth about the kind of form 2016 should take and how we should frame it. However, it’s the arguments currently going on here in France about the legacy of the past, about post-colonialism, structural discrimination, cultural warfare and all the reasons that don’t justify killing people for a cause that have made up my mind about where I stand at home.
Violence should always be the last resort. Sometimes, it is the only option. The French police last Friday had to use deadly force to save innocent lives. The only justification for killing another human being is those extreme, no-alternative circumstances. Killing people for a political ideology or a religious ideology is not something that can be justified precisely because there is always an alternative. There is always another and better way. History might obscure and shroud that fact with the passing of time but at the moment, it’s bright in my mind. I hope for the sake of society that it outshines whatever people might say to cover it — here and at home.
Previously: A Letter From Paris
(Pic: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images, Guardian)