Saturday, November 14, 2015


Illustration by Alejandro R, Professor, Beaux Arts, Paris

La Terreur is nothing new to the French. They experienced almost a full year of it just over two hundred years ago. La Terreur went on and on, complete with the guillotine and the knitting ladies. It was an unholy faction fight, but at least everyone knew who everyone else was.

There were more recent manifestations of it in the 1960s as France tried to disentangle itself from its Algerian occupation and encountered fierce opposition from entrenched colonials and their military sympathisers. Bombs were set off in the streets of Paris in a long campaign which attempted to thwart de Gaulle's retreat from North Africa.

Now we have terrorists letting loose on the streets of Paris purportedly in revenge for French military participation in attacks on various groups or states in the middle east and in an attempt to spread some version of the Caliphate world wide.

Ireland is well familiar with this phenomenon in a slightly different context. The IRA's "mainland bombing campaign" was in full swing in my younger days. Lenin has pointed out that the purpose of the terrorist is to terrorise. It is not to defeat the opposing military in battle. It is to terrorise civilian populations and totally demoralise the enemy through the backdoor as it were. The aim of the IRA terror campaign of my day was to undermine political support on the British mainland for British occupation of the six counties of Northern Ireland.

In this the IRA were drawing their inspiration from Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, the nineteenth century Fenian recently honoured (separately) by the Irish State and Sinn Féin.

As recently as 1974, some of us thought ourselves lucky not to have been victims of the UVF Dublin and Monaghan bombings in May of that year.

So we can empathise with the people of Paris over the carnage of Friday the Thirteenth last.

While clearly not on the same scale of events, the attacks brought back to mind my first experience of death and disgust on the streets of Paris in 1966.

After graduating from college, Tom Ferris and I went on a trip to France and Germany.

In Paris, of course we went to see the Arc de Triomphe.

As we came up from the underground passage onto the traffic island at the Arc, we saw the body of a young girl lying on the ground. Clearly a suicide, but at the Arc rather than the more popular Eiffel Tower.

We barely had time to absorb the impact of what we were seeing when the police arrived in force and took over the scene.

Then the rubbernecks started congregating and we decided to leave. I can still vividly recall our emotions then. We were appalled at the event, saddened by the loss of a young life and angry that this should have happened.

On emerging from the underground tunnel at the other end, we were approached by a sleazy looking gent flogging dirty pictures.

The contrast was surreal and sick-making and I have never forgotten this incident.

It is trivial by the standards of what just happened in Paris yesterday, but at the end of the day, we can only absorb these events and empathise with victims and their families on the scale of the individual.

It was the incident I have described above, and the needless loss of one individual life, which came to mind yesterday evening and gave a sense place and of scale to the enormous tragedy then playing out on the streets of Paris.

On a related, but different tack, yesterdays events are a stark reminder that invading other countries and destabilising whole regions in ill thought out and unjustifiable imperial excursions carry a heavy price tag. And the price is paid, not by the decision makers, but by their people, whose interests and safety should be their first priority and take precedence over personal and corporate ambition and folly.

1 comment:

Póló said...

In her column in today's Sunday Independent, Ruth Dudley Edwards has also picked up on the resonance of the IRA mainland bombing campaign in the context of Gerry Adams's condemnation of this sort of thing.