|Final moments of the hostage crisis at a kosher supermarket in Vincennes|
Central Paris yesterday was wound up like a watch spring. It was a day of sirens, helicopters, news bulletins; police cordons and anxious crowds; of young children led away from schools to safety. Police vehicles moving at very high speed eastwards and the closure of the eastern Ring created road and rail chaos, impacting almost everyone. It was a day, like the previous two, of blood and horror in and around Paris, one that ended with France unsure whether this drama is now truly over or a predictor of more cultural, religious and political violence to come. Twin co-ordinated operations at the kosher market in eastern Paris and the industrial park near Dammartin-en-Goële to the north-east resulted in the efficient dispatch of those who clearly preferred martyrdom to surrender at a cost of several innocent hostages’ lives in addition to the carnage at Charlie Hebdo the day before. The killing of a dozen people in Wednesday’s attack has prompted an outpouring of tributes from cartoonists around the world, flooding the Internet with images ranging from the elegiac to the scabrously rude. If, as some have suggested, this was indeed France’s 9/11, perhaps the shock was so much greater; the violence having come from their own, French-speakers, market-grown terrorists, speaking the argot of the heavily-immigrant banlieues as well as the French of Voltaire.
CH has always been at the sharp end of political and social satire and its origins were in the ‘do it because we can’ mentality of the 1960’s French radicals who went further than anyone else to lampoon, ridicule and poke sharp sticks at almost everyone who set themselves up as a target. Most are either offended or amused – precisely the intention of the cartoonists since that is the purpose of satire. But, disturbing and hitherto unanswered questions remain. If Muslims in general are offended by caricatures of Mohammed, how far are the rank and file prepared to go? Despite much soothing platitude from senior imams last night, distancing their version of Islam from the bloodshed and carnage, it would seem that for some, mere offence is not enough and they invoke darker passages in the Qu’ran and the hadiths to support their view. One hardliner refused last night to unilaterally condemn the CH killings – invoking a verse from the Qu’ran inviting those who ‘insult a prophet’ to be killed. But to whom is this verse addressed; to other Muslims, the kuffar, or everybody? Because the Muslim response to it matters. If the kuffar, he is ignorant of his blasphemy and should not therefore be held responsible. If to the Muslim, he should know better than to be rude about one whom his faith teaches to love more than family. Indeed, to which ‘prophet’ does the verse refer?
|Istanbul - outside the French Embassy|
Questions that should have been asked months ago now clamour for answers. How did the perpetrators slip the intelligence net? How large and how organized is the radicalized part of France’s Muslim population, the largest in Europe? How deep is the rift between France’s secular values, of individual, sexual and religious freedom, of freedom of the press and the freedom to shock, and a growing Muslim conservatism that rejects many of these values in the name of religion? And how can the rift be bridged, if at all by politicians who do little but bleat forlornly about unity?