There’s nothing I can say to add anything to the general outpouring of grief and anger at the murders that took place within the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo yesterday. It’s frightening though. Acts of violence beget acts of violence. Ordinary people of Muslim heritage, in France, England and elsewhere must find it hard to get on with normal everyday life, interacting unselfconsciously with neighbours and colleagues. Those who fight extremism with their computers, pens and pencils may now think twice about the consequences of words and images intended only to provoke thought and debate.
I liked very much an article by Owen Jones in today’s Guardian. He reminded us of the Oslo bombings, and the murder of dozens of young Norwegians about three and a half years ago, and pointed out that in the main, Norway responded with calmness and humanity. No bloodbath followed, with faction set against faction. Somehow though, things seem different now, with arguments about religious extremism set centre-stage throughout Europe. Will France be able to manage the calm and dignified reaction the Norwegians achieved a while back?
In the community where I lived in France, there was large Muslim population, largely from North Africa. Many had decent jobs, friends from a range of backgrounds , and were fully integrated into local life. But in an area of high unemployment, they were often among the most likely to be jobless. Whole blocks of council housing had only Muslim tenants, and they stuck together, supported each other. They seemed to me to be quite vulnerable. I wonder how things will go for them if anti-Muslim feeling rises in the aftermath of this week’s events?
Today, in France, religious leaders from all faiths met and prayed together in solidarity. Implacable political opponents Nicholas Sarkozy and François Hollande met at the Élysée Palace to share thoughts and ideas, where however, they were not joined by the increasingly popular and outspoken Front National leader Marine le Pen.
It feels as if we’re at a crossroads. Do we join with those who, despite their differences, come together to seek to unite communities? Or will the violence, quite simply, spread?