A War of Words: The Pen and the Kalashnikov.

 

Bleu, France, Rouge. Mr and Mrs Playmo were very emotional.

Bleu, France, Rouge. Mr and Mrs Playmo were very emotional.

On Sunday morning, I awoke in beautiful, permissive, perverted France. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and went down to the kitchen. I prepared the filter coffee, and put a couple of butter croissants in the oven to warm. Because this is France.

After breakfast, I pulled on my inappropriately tight and short running attire, and went outside to do whatever I pleased, wherever I wished, dressed as I deemed fit, and whether or not my husband agreed. I ran through the vineyards that year after year offer up hectolitres of delicious and ludicrously cheap wine for the “perverted” people who commit the ultimate sin of enjoying the privilege of being alive. I reveled in life, ‘The Eagles of Death Metal’ resonating in my ears and determination coursing though my sinful veins. I appreciated my liberty to stop at a bar on the way home and have a cool drink, or even sip a glass of wine, if I so wished. Even on Sunday, even at ten in the morning, even when others are at church. To talk to complete strangers – male or female, black or white, Muslim, Jewish, Christian or atheist. Because this is France, and France is a free country – whatever any gun-wielding crackpots with the IQ of Smelly Dog’s chew-toy would like to believe.

When I returned home, I read the letter Daesh sent to the French. I read it several times over, and I was struck by the language content as well as the message it contained. This is my reply.

Using words as a weapon 

The written word rocks my everyday life. I work with words all day, in French and in English. When I have finished, I relax with words. I read. I write. I communicate. Language is the basis of all human communication. As you have understood, it can be a terrible weapon when put in the wrong hands. Words influence people, and draw human nature from deep inside us, bubbling to the surface. For any given situation, words can generate pity or malevolence, compassion or hatred, pride or arrogance. It all depends who is wielding the pen and how alert the reader is to the danger of being manipulated.

The outdated hate-mongering on my screen was written in such archaic language that I would have expected it to be delivered to the French President by camel, carrier pigeon or  an exhausted, bare-footed messenger in medieval garb. However, you saw no contradiction in posting it via modern-day communication technology created by the very  “miscreants” you claim to despise. And just to twist your pocket knife a little further into French flesh, you typed it in white print, on a blue background, with a red banner at the top.

The introduction

You begin by explaining that you are writing “in the name of the very misericordious Allah”. This sentence deserves a little time, for two reasons. Firstly, I find it disrespectful and even downright arrogant to claim to represent anyone except oneself, particularly when it is to take responsibility for toting a machine gun in a public place. Most of us get over bleating “He told me to do it” at kindergarten.

Secondly, my dictionary defines the word “misericoridious” as “compassionate, merciful”. I’m not sure that anyone with those values would condone this behaviour, and particularly not in his or her name. How on earth could a “misericordious” God find it ‘merciful’ or ‘compassionate’ to kill and maim innocents? Either ‘he’ has a very twisted view of mercy, or you have interpreted the written word to suit your personal need for violence.

Choose your verb with caution

In the third paragraph, you nicely shoot both yourself and your “cause” in the foot – the ultimate paradox for a terrorist. You claim that Allah is “all powerful”, yet you do not appear to trust “him” to be powerful enough, as you continue to boast that you and your pals have “rescued his religion, his prophet and his allies by humiliating his enemies”.

“Rescued”? Unfortunate choice of verb there. Should we understand that you see “him” as being so fragile that “he” needs YOU to step in and not only speak, but kill on “his” behalf? What “all-powerful” higher entity would need a hoard of self-appointed henchmen wielding hate and Kalashnikovs to be heard by the mere mortal?  

Perverse Pâtisserie? These are called Nuns' Farts in French, so named after a nun farted in the kitchen of the Abbey of Marmoutier and scared another, making her drop some choux pastry into the oil pan.

Perverse Pâtisserie? These are called Nuns’ Farts in French, so named after a nun farted in the kitchen of the Abbey of Marmoutier and scared another, making her drop some choux pastry into the oil pan.

Perversity

Next up, you claim that it is perverted to enjoy life, conveniently ignoring the gross inappropriateness of your own behaviour. What is more perverted? Sipping a cool glass of Pastis with friends on a Parisian terrace, or hiding away at a safe distance as you blow up an eight-year-old child weighed down with explosives on a market place to kill indiscriminately for your “ideals”? Accepting the religious and cultural differences of your population, or attempting to impose your views through terror and violence? (You may remember that a few other people tried that one before you. If you come across Staline, Franco, Mussolini or Hitler in the afterlife, ask them how well it worked out for them.)

You get a kick out of killing innocent civilians. We get pleasure from listening to a rock concert. I find the former far more perverse than the latter. While we’re on the subject of idolizing perverted music, you still have time to change your minds. Just for the record (no pun intended), Bin Laden listened to Western pop cassettes in his hideout, and more specifically, songs by Gaston Ghrenassia, aka Enrico Macias. If one of your spiritual leaders secretly enjoyed listening to a singing, dancing Algerian Jew who lived in France and became an international star, then maybe you should question the legitimacy of your argument.

The oh-so-sultry Enrico Macias, whose music was listened to by none other than Bin Laden.

The oh-so-sultry Enrico Macias, whose music was listened to by none other than Bin Laden.

 

Heroes, Martyrs and Caped Crusaders.

On Friday, your sidekicks were not martyrs, just cowards. There were heroes, though. Real life heroes who tried to shield their loved ones from bullets with their own bodies, those who guided others to safety, or stopped in their flight to safety at the Bataclan to help a pregnant woman who was dangling out of the window, screaming in terror. They acted on instinct – to protect life, not to destroy it.

As we are on the topic of heroes, let’s have a look at the word “crusader”, which you used to describe the French. This noun only really crops up these days when preceded by the word “caped”. Although I really do quite fancy the idea of the French population wearing their superhero knickers over their lycra leggings and walking the streets as a peaceful army composed of Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, Edna in the cartoon “The Incredibles” says we don’t need capes to be heroes, and she’s right.

Edna in "the Incredibles" is very clear about capes. Source: http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/glee/images/3/3b/No_Capes_The_Incredibles_6_Edna.gif/revision/latest?cb=20140603225117

Edna in “The Incredibles” is very clear about capes.
Source: wikia.nocookie.net

France left the 11th century a long time ago, and Paris, far from being the Crusader HQ you make it out to be, is now a place where people of all origins sit together outside bistros on the public squares like the ‘Place de la République’, ‘Place de la Concorde’ et ‘Place de la Bastille’, where they are free to drink alcohol or not, dance or not, show their hair or not.

Love

Last but not least, one word that unfortunately does not appear anywhere in your text is the word “love”. I find this revealing, because from what I can establish, it is a word that appears in all religious texts. Yet you choose to carefully sidestep what should be the main raison d’être of any religion: to teach people to love each other and live together in harmony.

You wanted to create a wave of division and hate, but have only succeeded in provoking, once again, an international tsunami of unity and love. This is France. Multicultural, strong, democratic, beautiful, free France. If freedom is perversion, I will willingly embrace it. Along with all the other ‘perverts’ in this country, I raise my glass to freedom, equality, and fraternity. Cheers.

Day Seven: Je Suis Charlie.

In Mourning.

In Mourning.

Mrs Playmo left home with a band-roll and two pencils last night. She asked me to help her to put the pencils upright in the grass, then taped her message to them and asked me to take the picture.

Playmobilia doesn’t have this kind of bad guy. There are pirates, and warriors, and Greeks in strappy sandals toting shields and arrows, and Amanda Shacklebottom, who goes for dates with other people’s husbands. But only Policemen have guns on Playmo Street. Nobody has ever been worried about a fundamentalist with a Kalashnikov pelting into their office and shooting everyone in sight.

When the two terrorists came out of Charlie Hebdo’s premises, they crowed that they had avenged their prophet and that Charlie Hebdo was dead. They could not be further from the truth. What Charlie Hebdo stood for is more alive than it ever was before. Did they really think that killing people could restrain freedom of expression? The exact opposite has happened. Pencils and pens were immediately unsheathed and social networks overflowed with cartoons that condemned and mocked their behavior. An overwhelming sea of support for France rose in countries all around the world. Three words, “Je suis Charlie”, were translated into a multitude of languages and so many black and white copies of it were printed that the shops will be out of new cartridges next week.

The staff at Charlie Hebdo were armed with nothing more than pencils, yet pencils appear to be a far more effective weapon than guns in the fight for democracy and freedom of expression. Snap it in two, and we will sharpen each part and continue drawing.

At the aptly named Place de la Liberté this evening, the mayor of our little village was visibly moved to see the number of inhabitants who had turned out in memory of the victims at Charlie Hebdo. Hundreds of them. School children, their parents, their grandparents, all holding signs and candles. The retired lady beside me was close to tears. She told me that her husband could not bring himself to attend; he was still affected after being in the train that was blown up by Carlos in 1983. But she was there to show terrorism that it could not win. Proof that humans are resilient and determined in the face of brutality.

The terrorists wanted to bring France to its knees, but they have achieved exactly the opposite. The French are standing tall, united and determined that terrorism will not result in a meltdown of the principles on which its society is built. I am proud to live here.

Aux crayons, citoyens! Take up your pencils… and fight against intolerance.

 

This is not a Christmas Post.

There are Christmas lights everywhere. The tree is up and decorated, and despite my multiple pleas and threats, it is still lurching towards the fireplace at a rakish angle as if it’s trying to leap inside. Last night I curled up in front of the fire with a glass of Christmas Spirit and a bowl of peanuts and watched the flames flicker in the hearth and the lights twinkle on the tree. But between you, me and the next WordPress post, my heart’s just not in it this year.

Warning: If you are looking for a happy smiley post for Christmas, please stop reading after the photos – this is a “getting something of my chest” post. But rest assured, this is not the final post of the year. 

….So.  As the rest of blogdom posts twinkling lights on Christmas trees and illuminated public places, here are pictures I took of my favourite baubles, kindly provided by Mother Nature a few months ago on a dewy morning in the Alsace. The spider had caught nothing but humidity, which had formed perfect spheres of water, heavy yet strangely delicate on the intricate, perfect web. In each one I could see the upturned image of the world around us – distorted and replicated in each and every bead.

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The spider had taken time and energy to painstakingly construct its web. Instinct and determination had driven it to create an intricate structure. Did it know how fragile its creation was compared to the force of the wind or a passing animal? One movement of my hand would have sufficed to tear a hole in the perfect wholeness of this delicate frame for miniature, crystalline globes. To destroy the entire edifice, sparkling baubles and all. Yet the ephemeral perfection created by nature demanded respect.

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Much in the same way, life is fragile yet sacred. When a child is born, we tend to our offspring, nurture them and use all our forces of persuasion and encouragement to help them shape a fulfilling existence. We discover that love sparks off a reflex to put this small being first, a reflex that awakens us, shaking with fury and adrenalin, when we dream that our child is in danger. Because we are painfully aware that like the spider’s web, all life is fragile and can be destroyed in the blink of an eye.

Today, I look at these photographs in the light of current events that have shocked humanity to its very core and think of the song “Spider’s Web”, by Katie Melua. In it, she sings:

“The line between wrong and right

is the width of a thread on a spider’s web”

This line has been crossed again and again this year, as the world looks on in horror. Along this thread, there are the tears shed across the world for innocent victims of terrorism, executed in cold blood by fanatical murderers who ripped apart the fragile, sacred creation that we call life. Cowards who took up weapons to fire at children as they screamed the name of their God. I cannot help wondering if they recognized real courage as it stared them in the face – the unarmed teachers who stood between these killers and their pupils.

The terrorists no doubt see submission and fragility in the tears that have flowed. They are wrong.

 There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.

Washington Irving