Paris and the Power of Reason – by Álvaro de Vasconcelos
Atualizado: 28 de Out de 2019
My city has been attacked – the town that has been my home for so many years, and still is home to my daughter and grandsons; the city that has harboured so many of the good, as well as the tragic, memories that make up my life. But despite Paris having been such a presence in my life, or perhaps because of it, not giving in to emotion now is crucial, as is ensuring that reason will prevail.
Thucydides remarked that, “Those who ponder the right decision are a more formidable enemy than those who hasten to use brute force.” The notable Parisian, Jacqueline de Romilly, once classified the victory of reason as the essence of Athenian democracy and pluralism.
In short, in this moment of outrage and the hunger for revenge, it is vital that all French people, in particular their political leaders, ensure that reason prevails.
The unconscionable attacks on Paris were not an attack on Western civilisation by a group that had chosen in order to fight it and thus fulfill the prophecy of the ‘clash of civilizations’. In reality they embodied the European – specifically the French – dimension of the war in the Middle East. The French now should learn from the mistakes made by President Bush but I am fearful that they may me tempted by the same rhetoric of the ‘war against terror’ and measures of exception like the Patriotic act that he adopted. Yet it is not France that is at war, it is the Middle East.
The Parisian philosopher, Edgar Morin, has called the Middle East the world’s dynamite keg – and now it has exploded. It began with the American rush to deploy brute force in Iraq after September 11, 2001, which proved to have been a tragic and mistaken decision. It has continued throughout the endless wars in Syria, Libya and Yemen, and is already simmering in Egypt. Now it has reached Europe, and the conflict will continue here as well, unless the international community can put an end to the war in Syria.
The first key point towards peace must, therefore, be Syria . The Paris attacks show that Europe, particularly France, has now become a stage for the war already raging in the Middle East. Experiencing attack by an international coalition that includes France, Daesh has attacked Paris in return. The consequence is that it is now clear, indeed clearer than ever before, that the prevention of future attacks will not depend only on reinforcing the intelligence services, but also requires that the international community find a solution to the sectarian war in Syria. The solution lies in the policy that France has supported: neither Assad nor Daesh. There can be no solution to Daesh without a political solution for Syria, or for Syria without an end to Daesh. And it must follow that allowing a war criminal like Assad to represent the international community in this fight against Daesh in Syria would be a serious mistake.
The second key point in resolving this crisis lies in intercultural solidarity. Europeans must not fall into the trap that Daesh has set, of seeing these events as an conflict between Muslims and the French, as if France were the last bastion of secularism and freedom. The crimes in Paris were not against “our” civilization or against the values of France, but against our shared humanity. Freedom, equality and fraternity are universal values. They are the hope for most of humanity, particularly in the Muslim world. France is not alone, and enjoys the solidarity of all those who hope for freedom in the southern Mediterranean. At the time of the attacks I was in Morocco, at a conference on the freedom of digital information. The emotions of the Arab participants were clear, as was their concern about the possible consequences for freedom in their own countries of the terrorist acts in Paris.
Allowing Daesh to represent all Muslims is unthinkable, yet this is precisely the objective of the crimes that have been committed in Paris. The same applies to the use of the term ‘Islamic State’, which is how they would like Muslims to think of them. The real Islamic state, the Caliphate of Cordoba in the 10th and 11th centuries was a time of flourishing civilization, culture and spirituality – everything that Daesh contradict with their barbaric violence. Daesh are a millenarian, sectarian anti-Shiite movement, as evidenced by the thousands of Shiite Muslims killed in Iraq, or this week’s attack in Beirut which killed dozens of people there.
I lived in Paris for fifteen years, first as an exile in the 1960s and the 1970s. More recently, I returned as a professional to work there from 2007 to 2014. Today, Paris is much more diverse and multicultural than it was in the 1960s. It was, and still is, a city of political refugees from all over the world, traditionally opposed to sectarianism and open to the wider world. These qualities must be preserved at all costs in the face of these heinous crimes. Above all, we must end the absurd debate over identity fuelled by writers and commentators such as Zeimour, Finkelkraut, Houellebek and others, which eats away at peaceful coexistence.
The criminals that spread terror throughout Paris last Friday probably chose their targets for no other reasons than convenience of attack and to maximize the number of deaths. But in reality they hit a vastly diverse area, more cosmopolitan and open in customs and cultural activities than other, more conservative neighbourhoods of the city. The Bataclan, for example, is traditionally a venue for great popular music shows. Perhaps unknowingly, they targeted what they hate most with their extreme, sectarian and reductive radicalism.
The key to the defeating Daesh in Europe lies in intercultural solidarity, a set of values that many of the victims had held dear. The sectarian intentions of Daesh will only fail when confronted with the unity of the French people – Muslim and non-Muslim alike. It is, moreover, a unity that can and must extend to the south of the Mediterranean.
Nothing could favour Daesh more than the triumph of sectarianism which could result in retaliation against French Muslims and refugees fleeing the same war that has now killed more than 120 people in Paris. To overcome Daesh, Europeans must oppose all arguments claiming that refugees pose a threat. On the contrary they must declare them to be victims of the same barbarism, so that together we can create a more tolerant, welcoming, fair and free Euro-Mediterranean world. If, then, reason does indeed prevail, Paris will remain an open city, a city in which I truly feel I am in the World, despite this crime – or even, perhaps, because of it.
This article first appeared in Lebanon’s Daily Star.