Paris Attacks Give Us Pause For Thought
While terrorists shout "death to the infidel", this morning people of goodwill will likely cry "Vive la France!"
That Paris, the City of Light should again be threatened with darkness serves as a reminder that, in an age of globalisation, our way of life, for all its comforts, is never as secure nor as guaranteed as we think.
Having already weathered the Charlie Hebdo attack and its related atrocities, Paris now has to deal with a collection of even more deadly outrages, which President Hollande has rightly labelled an "abomination".
More than 120 people have been killed in the latest brutality, which led the authorities to immediately close France's borders and declare a state of emergency.
This morning, thankfully, reports on the ground suggest that although shaken, Parisians are for the most part getting on with life. Perhaps they see normality as the best form of defiance in the face of barbarism.
In Europe as in many other parts of the developed world, we can arguably find ourselves lulled into a false sense of security about threats from within and without.
Modern technologies and the normal advantages of urbanisation can suggest that our relatively civilised way of life is somehow isolated from and immunised against overt violence.
Digitisation and our growing engagement with social media have produced wonderful opportunities to share ideas and solve problems large and small.
They also, however, allow us to build highly individualised bubbles of existence; cosy enclaves within which - the impact of cyber-bullying notwithstanding - we appear to be able to shut out many of the uncertainties of the real world.
As a result, it is easy for us to believe that we can isolate ourselves within a zone of relative self-determination.
Attacks like that of 13/11 in Paris, as they may well become known, and 7/7 in London shake that sense of inviolable security.
With that in mind, a helpful response not only for Parisians but for all of us who consider ourselves their friends, might be to recalibrate or at least review some of our priorities, collectively if not individually.
That is not to suggest for a moment that terror attacks serve a useful purpose. They do not. But we must make of events, even the most tragic, what we can.
In the wake of an assault on our freedoms, there are almost inevitably calls for reviews of all sorts of big picture, political questions.
In this case, there will doubtless be calls for a rethink of the French military engagement in Syria, for example. Given, as seems likely, that a few of the Paris killers were home-grown, some people will also demand a revisiting of approaches to immigration, or at the very least integration.
Yes, some will do so opportunistically, but many more will do so reflectively and with a genuine desire to take something helpful from disaster.
Hopefully, however, what will emerge in most of us, on a very personal level, is a deeper resolve to uphold and treasure the freedoms that millions of men and women in two world wars died to preserve.
For some of us – and I include myself uppermost – this may mean recommitting ourselves to engagement with our world, wherever we can. I mean both the everyday world with its seemingly mundane problems and the wider, less attractive (or comprehensible) “political” world.
Perhaps we will take from this tragedy a refusal to cede, through apathy or distraction, control of our destinies to others, whose passion makes them more committed to a cause than we are.
Perhaps this tragedy will also lead us to reflect that whilst the people killed and injured in the Paris attacks were victims in the true sense of the word, most of us are not, no matter how badly we feel we’re treated at times.
We arguably live in a culture which increasingly celebrates a “victim mentality” on all sorts of issues. There are real victims in this world; some of those who call themselves victims are not.
In the end, the best responses to attacks like these might be renewed vigilance without terror, social tolerance without moral blindness, independence without irresponsibility and wariness without paranoia.
On present indications, it seems that the good people of Paris, while dealing with various degrees of grief depending on their closeness to the aftermath of these attacks, are already determined to respond in this way.
We wish them well.