On Saturday I received an email from my local policeman, the second paragraph of which reads
“The Metropolitan Police Service has put in place a coordinated response to the shocking events in Paris overnight. We are doing all we can to reassure the public and to keep our local communities safe from harm. Please assist us in reporting anything you feel may be suspicious. London remains one of the world’s safest cities and we will stand together with you to keep it that way.”
Was it a gesture ? Yes. But an important one because it’s about contact and about the fact that being taken care of isn’t a one way street.
I feel a great and terrible recognition about the violence in Paris, along the lines of “here we go again.” I mean no disrespect, only that as you get older, you learn that “peace” is a relative term. I kept a world map from an article I read in the last six months which listed here a war, there a war – but unless you or yours are affected by it, you push thinking about it away. It’s horrible and you regret it, add your name to the petition, sign over some money. It is just not real to us.
But Paris is just over there, inescapably real, only a few hours away by train. It has streets and shops and bars and concert venues, all recognisable to us. We can relate to it and if this horror can happen to them it can happen to us.The Daesh has pushed the idea of universal danger back under our noses.Sudden unreasonable violent death disturbs us all.
There will always be those who think about things and those who’d rather not.There will always be people who prefer to have ideas reduced to “Jack and Jill went up the hill” rather than have to assess the real complexities and painful build up necessary to produce a situation in which planning, positioning, transport, papers and weapons are focussed on several civilian targets simultaneously. In round figures nearly 150 people died and nearly 100 are in hospital, media repeatedly stressing that many are seriously injured. Any totalitarianism stipulates that you are with us or against us and if you are against us, you are dispensable. The Paris attacks did not come out of a clear blue sky.
The British Prime Minister has waved through a sizeable increase in training personnel, divided between GCHQ (the listening station), MI5 and MI6. But the police have just been landed with enormous cuts. There is no point in running those resources down beyond a certain point because they relate to the rest of us. And they advertise weak links in the chain, very convenient to the “have bombs, will travel” attitude that defines the jihadists. Have you noticed how often the young who have names in the frame already have minor criminal records ?
Of course as soon as the police ask for help, they will have to deal with a lot of fear. For every person who picks up on something useful, there will be six who want to be reassured they haven’t seen anything really. It’s like mentioning cancer on the radio when most of the people who ring in haven’t got it, they just worry that they might have it and fear is very time consuming. But I still rate my local policeman for sending it and his sergeant who 24 hours later sent a longer message including links to the texts of presentations by the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner responsible for Counter Terrorism. Sure, it’s public relations. I am all for relating to the public.
Rather than taking what we have for granted, we need to value it anew – all those people who signed up to “Not In My Name”, the people in Paris who opened their doors to strangers stuck for a place to stay in the chaos, those who said “We are young, educated and we don’t agree – that’s why they can’t stand us”, our choices, our freedoms. When terrible things happen, it is little things that take us back into the world of our fellows – not that we agree with them about everything but we have more in common with them than with those who just want to shoot us like fish in a barrel. And in mid November, a white anemone bloomed in my garden – the right colour for both mourning and peace.
Thank you for this perceptive, sensible piece. Where I work we have many colleagues and friends in Paris and feel deeply shocked by the recent events. It is so true that when acts of war happen in places that are recognisable to us, with familiar lifestyles, it feels so much more real. I remember feeling this about the terrible war in Bosnia: the year before, my dad had chaired a conference in Dubrovnik and my mum and I had gone along too. To then hear – just months later – about the terrible atrocities committed by people “just like us” seemed somehow to be particularly shocking. That is not at all to dismiss the suffering of those in other parts of the world, but it does feel more remote, and it is, as you rightly say, a matter of helping in the small ways we can and from a safe distance. The world feels like such a frightening and sad place for so many people at the moment, and I feel so sorry that the suffering endured by previous generations during WWI and WWII appears to be in vain. There just seems to be something in the human condition …..
What comforting words at a time of terrible tragedy Anna. My memories of Paris of 20 years ago are still vivid. The colours, atmosphere, the people, and my one ambition?..to stand under the structure of the eiffel tower, it was breathtaking!!..Neil..