A Letter From Paris


_80122555_025310586-1Place de la République, Paris, France last night

Further to the Charlie Hebdo shootings.

Irish expat David Burns writes:

As an Irish person living here, now is not the time to express anything but your deepest sympathies for the families of those involved. Charlie Hebdo is an institution here. The attack yesterday was an affront on France and on the French love for a bon mot, for satire and for freedom of speech. 35,000 Parisians gathered at Place de la République last night in a defiant response to this act of terror. Over 100,000 people across France came together in similar, spontaneous shows of strength and unity. The entire nation today pays its respects. It would be indecorous in the extreme for an outsider to do anything else but bow his head in condolence.

Not that the people who worked at Charlie Hebdo would have cared much for decorum. They didn’t give a fig for it. They defied decorum and other people’s notions of it. But I wouldn’t have it in me to start a debate today. The defiance of Cabu and Charb was born of love for debate, for discussion and out of a complete disregard for polite silence. But I don’t have it in me to start that conversation right now.

Not that I can stop thinking about the students I taught at la Sorbonne Nouvelle or their own views on some of Charlie Hebdo’s more provocative cartoons. I keep hoping they’ll keep quiet on Twitter, Facebook and, above all, I hope they don’t say anything in real life. Charlie Hebdo was not always universally popular. I keep hoping that they’ll shut up about that today.

I keep thinking about the 1980s too — about all the Irish in the UK at the time of the Brighton bombing. I keep thinking about what happened in Hyde Park, in Regent’s Park and about what happened at Birmingham in 1974. My parents lived in London back then. I remember my Dad telling me how he felt ashamed to have an Irish accent after what the IRA did, especially when he would meet new people or people who didn’t know him from work. I remember he said it used to be awkward being a crowd of Irish in the pubs. When he wore a suit, there would never be a problem. It was after-hours drinking or at football matches that his accent would attract looks.

It’s not the time for it but the thought keeps niggling at me as to whether he ever apologised for the IRA bombings. That part of the story evades me. Had anyone ever asked him to come out and publically condemn the IRA for it? I can’t recall. It seems doubtful. My Dad is a proud man with a quick temper. Anyone who’d have known him in London would have known where he stood and would never have questioned it. But strangers? Would someone he didn’t know from Adam have asked him to prove his position by writing it down or saying it out loud? I don’t know if that ever happened.

I can’t imagine having the guts to broach all this at work. We normally talk everything over lunch – about racism against Roma people, about the rise of the National Front, about religion. Normally there aren’t no taboos. But the carnage yesterday. The fact it isn’t over. The rumors online. It doesn’t seem appropriate to argue today. Only a respectful silence.

Earlier: Drawn Together

Pic: Reuters


Elaine Byrne

Catholic Voice

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67 thoughts on “A Letter From Paris

  1. Zuppy International

    “…now is not the time to express anything but your deepest sympathies for the families of those involved.”

    Have no fear, the thought police are on the case.

      1. All the good ones fly south for winter

        Eddie Rockets on a Friday night I hope she’s got massive hands.

  2. Paolo

    The number of people on the Guardian (of all places) spewing Islamophobia is deeply disturbing. Owen Jones wrote a piece today pointing out that the extremists want to elicit a response from the far right in France and the comments below are depressing.

  3. scottser

    while my sympathies are with the french at this time, i still maintain that jean claude trichet and thierry henry are w@nkers and i’m sure they’ll agree with my right to say so.
    carry on.

    1. Janet

      Yes they would and that’s the whole point Scottser.
      This is a well written piece that has put my jumbled shocked thoughts in a sympathetic manner.

  4. guy bague

    Next week: #jesuislepen from the same people. Outsiders should and must comment. France is a racist society.

    1. Sidewinder

      Islam is a terrorist religion!
      The Irish are drinks!
      Americans are uncultured!
      Nigerians are fraudsters!

      These and all your other favourite generalisations on special offer now from your nearest gobshite.

      1. SADDo

        France has huge questions to answer about themselves:

        Sadly, the French capital has been associated with some of the worst barbarism in human history.

        The Terror started by the 1789 Revolution led to tens of thousands of deaths, with many of its victims guillotined in front of vengeful crowds. Savage mass murders continued on squares and boulevards throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, through the Commune and two world wars, the second of which saw tens of thousands of Jews persecuted before being sent to their deaths in concentration camps. Postwar, many of the Gestapo-trained gendarmes involved in the those atrocities showed a fresh brutality to Algerians displaced by their own nation’s fight for independence from France.

        The three French-Algerian men believed responsible for the 12 deaths in Paris on Wednesday would have been steeped in a recent history of this conflict which, in the 1960s, was exported from the battlefields of Algeria to Paris itself. During one notorious atrocity in 1961, up to 200 Algerians were slaughtered around national monuments, including the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame cathedral. Many were tossed into the Seine from some of the most beautiful bridges in the world and left to drown.

        Half a century on, the violence has subsided but there is still a strong sense of resentment among alienated communities living in housing estates on the outskirts of the capital. Many are Muslims of north African origin who complain that discrimination against them extends to every field of life, from housing and employment to the right to religious expression. This is particularly so as politicians of the left and right regularly blame Islam for these social problems, which in fact have nothing to do with spiritual faith.

        Anti-religious hate speech has thus become all too prevalent in modern France, as it is manipulated for political purposes. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the National Front, is a convicted racist and antisemite, and his daughter, Marine Le Pen, the party’s current leader, regularly stigmatises Muslims and other minority groups.

        Immigration policy underpins all of this discourse. Manuel Valls, the reactionary Socialist prime minister, infamously portrayed Roma gypsies as a group who cannot integrate and who should be deported back to Romania and Bulgaria, despite being EU citizens. This was followed by a number of violent attacks on Roma, while a right-wing mayor blocked the burial of a Roma baby in a municipal cemetery last week.

        There is no doubt that Charlie Hebdo’s notorious cartoons satirising the prophet Muhammad saddened and angered Muslims in equal measure. When the magazine published a cover with a bearded and turbaned cartoon figure of the prophet saying “100 lashes if you’re not dying of laughter” in 2011, their offices were firebombed.

        Other images and articles were also vindictive, including some about the other major monotheistic religions, Christianity and Judaism, but it was Islam that the Hebdo team always really had in its sights. Its murdered editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, regularly expressed his disdain for this religion. Such prejudice was in fact condemned by the White House in September 2012, when a spokesman for President Obama questioned the judgment of Charlie Hebdo for publishing “images that will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory”. Richard Prasquier, head of France’s Jewish council, also said he disapproved of the caricatures because they constituted a “form of irresponsible panache”.

        The climate of intolerance across France may well have been something Charlie Hebdo was reflecting, rather than creating, but strict laws banning hate literature would certainly have made many of its past issues unpublishable in countries including the UK. Comparisons between Private Eye, the British satirical weekly, and Charlie Hebdo have been made recently, but actually they are wrong: the self-styled “nasty” French magazine produces a far darker form of satire.

        1. jungleman

          Did you write that yourself? Either way it is an excellent examination of the wider issues that this shooting highlights but which have gotten little consideration in the press. I stated on another tread that the French lawmakers were partly responsible for failure to ban the publication of the caricatures of the Prophet in the interests of the common good and public order. The response I got was that I was in favour of censorship. I think in the long term a less favourable view of Charlie Hebdo will become more common. These people never deserved the violence visited upon them yesterday, and it is inexcusable, but we must still examine whether free speech on occasion went too far here. Furthermore, the prevalence of radical Islam today is different to previous decades and we must ask the hard questions as to why this is happening rather than focusing on the “je suis Charlie” viral campaign or the admittedly impressive pen cartoons.

          I just watched a prominent French man give an interview on BBC news night where he stated that France was right in its desire to bomb Assad in 2013 and somehow seemed to link the failure of France to do so with yesterday’s attack. This kind of mentality demonstrates the sheer lack of understanding of Islam and the complexities of the Middle East that pervades in the west.

          1. jungleman

            I presume you’re joking, but if not, thank you for exemplifying the stunted thought-process I mention above.

          2. Norman

            The above post seems to have been plagiarized from writings of Nabila Ramdani. Her article is available at various places. Just put “During one notorious atrocity in 1961, up to 200 Algerians were slaughtered ” into your search engine of choice.

  5. Friscondo

    Don’t deign to tell me what to think or say. The contempt for non white, non western lives has been amply shown in recent years. This recent event is a tragedy for these families directly involved and I genuinely feel for them. But their tragedy is replicated daily in the Middle East with little respect or interest shown. I lived in London between 1987 and 1996. I never once felt I should explain myself and was quite happy to point out to English people the roots of the conflict and what eventually turned out to be the road to peace. I abhor all violence, not selectively when it involves white westerners only.

    1. Nice Anne (Dammit)

      Ummm….. people are very capable of being concerned by and protesting about more than one source of violence at once.

      I find your comment very small minded, you should be out on the streets protesting about somebody doing something somewhere not complaining that nobody is doing something here. Shame on you.

      1. Kieran NYC

        Now now, Anne. We all know that you can’t feel for any white person until you have personally mourned every villager in Afghanistan.

        We must learn from our betters, like Friscondo.

    1. louislefronde

      Ah yeah and you would have Sinn Fein marching at the front. How ironic it is the people who did most to perfect modern terrorist tactics in the late 20th century are now in the running for office.

      1. Eamonn Clancy

        Not ironic at all, that’s just the way it goes. Have a look back at how we gained back 26 of our 32 counties off the British. It looks like you might have skipped that in history.

  6. Friscondo

    Anne, if you read what I wrote, I think what you’ll find is that I’m critical of the small mindedness that generally pertains in western media and among its citizens. What part of abhorring all violence don’t you understand. Far more violence has been inflicted on Arab Muslims (and Christians btw) by western powers and their allies than vice versa. The slaughter in Gaza was condoned by most western governments last summer.

    1. Nice Anne (Dammit)

      Ah sure yeah, you are a great man who with a single hand condems all violence and all the media for not reporting all the violence and all the citizens who (you think) are not aware of it…

      But their tragedy is replicated daily in the Middle East with little respect or interest shown, ……I think what you’ll find is that I’m critical of the small mindedness that generally pertains in western media and among its citizens

      This is only your impression. Your impression is wrong.

      1. f_lawless

        @Nice Anne
        but Anne, I think Friscondo may have a point and you’d need to back up your argument with some some substance other than asserting “This is only your impression. Your impression is wrong.”
        if you want to be more persuasive.
        How is it that -according to polls taken back in August – a 4:1 ratio of Americans supported a new bombing campaign in Iraq despite the previous untold suffering, slaughter and instability endured by Iraqi people over the previous decade as a consequence of Western invasions. It’s an established fact that airstrikes cause high civilian casualties is it not?

        1. Gubu

          People don’t like petty point scoring in the aftermath of a tragedy like this

          Friscondo may well be ‘ right ‘ but there is a time and place

          1. f_lawless

            I imagine there isn’t any of us commenting here who don”t feel deeply sympathetic towards the families of the bereaved in Paris but, in my view at least, Friscondo raises a point that we should absolutely be conscious of – or at least give some consideration to – in times like these. I don’t have a direct link to the families of any of those involved, do you?
            Framing his argument as “petty point scoring in the aftermath of a tragedy like this …there is a time and place” in a way proves his point. Tell me, when news broke of US drone strikes killing multiple civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia for example were you out on forums telling people “there’s a time and a place” out of respect for those bereaved families?

  7. gallantman

    Yesterday was appalling. I wouldn’t be subscribing to that magazine any day soon though, as a lot of people are now doing. Many of the cartoons I’ve seen from it seem deliberately provocative and unfunny.
    While cartoonists have a right to be offensive there is nothing to be gained from being needlessly so.

    1. Janet

      I understand you’re comment is coming from a good place but you are misunderstanding completely the cultural differences here on an attitude to satire entrenched in the mindset and a secular societies attitude to religion.

      1. mauriac

        Charlie H folded a few years and current circulation is sub 30,000.Do the management have alibis ?

      2. gallantman

        I posted that comment after seeing one particularly offensive(to my eyes) cartoon from CH. I regret it. Today is not the day for a critique of the magazine’s merits.

  8. Casey

    The act of subscribing is not an appriciation of the magazine humour or satire, it is solidarity for those that have been needlessly murdered and the right to the freedom of speech.

    Then they came for the Journalists (James Foley) (Kamel Daoud)
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Journalist

    Then they came for the Editors (Stephane Charbonnier)
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not an Editor

    First they came for the Writers (Salmon Rushdie) (Taslima Nasreen) (Raheel Raza) (Mariwan Halabjaee)
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Writer.

    Then they came for the Cartoonists (Kurt Westergaard) (Art Spiegelman)
    Then they came for the musicians (Shahin Najafi)
    Then they came for the satirists …..

    I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t any of them.
    And then, they came for me.
    And there was no one left to speak up for me.”

    Sleep well tonight.

  9. PPads

    There’s been a nationalist debate going on in France about immigrants for years. They are a proud old skool people but also attract a lot from ex colonies, especially poor Arabs. The media spin says the killers were professionally trained but there is no evidence that there was any political involvement, as yet.
    Bleating about Paddy Kilburn during the troubles also forgets the shite rebel music being blasted out of pubs during that time btw. Now its Sinead O’Connor god help us and… an expat from Paris. What exactly is an Expat btw?

  10. What Goes Up...

    Yesterday – Cartoonists are murdered for refusing to stop drawing things that piss people off.

    Today – Man implores people to not say anything to piss people off.


  11. GOS

    On the original post – well said. The comparison is absolutely appropriate.

    The Provos never spoke for the vast majority of Irish people (indeed the vast majority of Irish republicans). Muslims have a right not to be defined by these murderers.

    1. Gubu

      I think it’s a bit of a reach frankly

      The Provos spoke for a lot of people here

      You may not like this but it is true

      1. Pablo

        Yes, there were a fair few people who thought it was just fine and dandy for the IRA to indiscriminately slaughter children, pensioners, people socialising in pubs etc. I think they were in the minority all the same.

        1. Formerly known as @Ireland.com

          @Pablo, some Muslims might be upset about innocent children being murdered by democratic freedom loving countries.

        2. Honest Irishman

          Violence in the name of Ireland cannot be murder. One cannot equate Ireland’s fight for freedom with either Islamist lunacy or the crushing violence used by the global elites against the world’s poor.

          1. Ciarán

            So if I kill you for the benefit of Ireland – in this case so as to cut you out of the statistic and so raise the National IQ average by 0.00001% (Think of it as social Darwinism for the intellectual betterment of the nation) – then it is not definable as murder?

    2. Mike

      “Muslims have a right not to be defined by these murderers” very true , but the problem is with this and other similar groups there are all to many idiots willing to define a majority by a minorities actions :(

  12. FoxFire

    History never remembers peaceful majorities.

    Northern Ireland in the 70s, 80s, etc people remember the terrorism committed by both sides, they don’t remember the peace loving majority who just wanted to get on with their lives in peace.

    Germany 1939, people never consider peace loving Germans who lived then, they simply remember the 40+ million who died as a result of the Nazis.
    Japan 1939, again more peace loving Japanese, but again not remembered, instead we remember the 12+ million deaths caused by the Japanese Imperial army across Asia.

    Go back further WW1, same thing for the Germans.
    Go back even further, nobody remembers the peace loving Mongols who never supported Genghis Khan, they remember the wars, the conquests, the atrocities committed by the Mongols.

    History will remember that at the start of the 21st century, Islam was the religion of terror.
    9/11, Madrid, London, Bali, Sydney, Paris, that’s what they will be remembered for.

    If the followers of Jainism decided tomorrow to go on a rampage, that’s what they would be remembered for – not their centuries old doctrine of non-violence!

  13. Pablo

    The general tenor of these comments can be summarised as follows:

    (a) The French establishment is racist, so this atrocity is their fault.
    (b) Charlie Hebdo is a nasty publication that offends Islam, so they had it coming.
    (c) The thousands expressing their solidarity and sorrow over this atrocity are all racists who hate Muslims and are now going to join the National Front.
    (d) Facts a-c above are what we should all be lamenting. Yesterday’s massacre of the cartoonists, journalists and police officers matters only because it highlights a-c above

    1. Honest Irishman

      Thanks for summarising your position Pablo. My sympathies are with the victims and with free speech. No surprise that an enemy of Ireland such as yourself is laughing over 12 dead Frenchmen.

      Je suis Charlie

  14. Friscondo

    Kieran NYC, thanks for illustrating much of the argument I made? Afghan children murdered by American and British soldiers in obscure villages, were lives that were worthless in your estimation. Well done.

  15. Friscondo

    Who here would support the Westboro Baptist nutters, and their free speech.Anti gay, anti Jew, anti the murdering military? But generally weirdos! It’s not easy is it. Their biggest hatred is obviously for the “mooslims”.

  16. Friscondo

    Are they antisemites or is that ok. Certainly they don’t get attention. What is the protocol for identifying terrorists or non terrorists Nat the moment, apart from calling all Muslims savages. This seems to rock.

  17. Spaghetti Hoop

    While I’m very nterested in the Irish in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, I an curious why the writer asks should his father apologise for the IRA bombings. Oddest theory I’ve encountered tbh….unless…

  18. David Burns

    I should have made it clearer that I didn’t want my students to say shit because I was worried about them. Tensions were really high. I sent this in before the hostage situation. Since this has been published, mosques have been attacked, people are being taken to court for things they said on social media and the names of dissenting schoolkids have been published in the national press. The last thing I wanted to see were former students getting targeted. I was hoping they’d shut up because my first instinct was to hope they wouldn’t get hurt. They’re young.

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