About an hour before the Friday 13th attacks in Paris, I had taken an RER train to Charles de Gaulle airport on my way to Ireland for the weekend.
On the way we passed near the site of these attacks. The train stopped at the stadium where France were playing Germany in a soccer international. It is in a deprived banlieue (suburb) north of St Denis and I remember looking at the other passengers and noting the tired, dejected looking faces around me.
It is not a train journey that makes me particularly comfortable. The area where most of the immigrants to Paris live is where the sense of disenfranchisement is keenest. Poverty and crime are rampant and radical elements, that preach a disloyalty to the Republic of France have flourished within. That is a harsh summary for the majority of hard pressed law abiding citizens who live there but the truth is that the greatest enemies of France are made within the state itself.
Several of those killers were French citizens.
Just after I reached the airport the barbarians struck at the heart of Paris on a grim Friday 13th, wreaking death and desolation on the city.
It was like watching a horror movie all over again. It only seems like yesterday since the horrific Charlie Hebdo killings.
The horror of the killings back then appalled and sickened, particularly the shooting in the back of the young policewoman in Montrouge and the execution, captured on an iPhone, of the Muslim policeman outside the Charlie Hebdo offices.
But this Friday 13th massacre was much much worse, more violent, far more casualties, so cold-blooded it took the breath away.
They targeted the unprotected youth as it went about its weekend leisure. Dozens of diners were murdered in restaurants and cafes. A mass killing of eighty innocents took place at a rock concert. Many, many more lie critically injured. Three separate suicide bombers attempted to breach the Stade de France where a match was being played out between France and Germany.
This was hate and evil wrapped up in an assault on western democracy. It was an act of war and it demands a response, if not in kind, then in measure to stem this threat to the core values of civilization.
The scale of loathing of some of the Islamists for western culture is hard to comprehend when first encountered. I recall years ago, long before the gulf wars and 9/11, as an engineer in the Middle East being shocked at the extreme and absolutist views of a young Kuwaiti colleague.
Although normally agreeable and likeable, he frequently descended into anti-Americanism rants that were illogical and malevolent. Although he had received a third level education in the US and had partaken liberally of a privileged access to western consumerism when it suited him, he fundamentally hated western values. It seemed to me that he was an irreconcilable enemy of the west. I could not (and still can not) understand the reasons for his extremism
Something of a similar blind hatred motivated the synchronized slaughter of the Friday 13th terrorists in Paris. What else could make hostages lie on the floor of the Bataclan concert hall and then massacre them in cold blood. Similarly the ISIS executioners who behead their hostages in Iraq in front of camera revealed a type of extreme depravity.
Maybe the west could have done things differently and the lid could have be kept on these evil jihadists. If G.W.Bush (with his accomplice Blair) had not invaded Iraq under the patently false absurdity of searching for weapons of mass destruction, then would the vacuum that created ISIS would have not happened? If some genuine effort was made to resolve the Palestine question and rein in the excesses of the Zionists then a fundamental and chronic injustice could it cool the anger of the Islamists?
I was reminded this week how uplifting an experience it is to walk in a great civilized city like Paris. Around a small quarter near the Sorbonne, there is a multitude of cultural activities. The Pantheon is hosting a major literature exhibition. A French version of Brian Friels ‘Dancing at Lugnasa’ is being staged in a theatre nearby. The railings of the Jardin de Luxembourg are adorned with photographic exhibits. As I walked up the street to attend an Irish cultural event at the nearby Centre Culteral Irlandais, I could spy the animated figure of a professor delivering a lecture in a college hall, gesturing to his hidden audience, oblivious to the snarl of the traffic outside the window.
He seemed to epitomize the love of learning and liberality that is now under threat with this latest and most evil of atrocities. There is no more time left. The threat to our values must be stamped out. As the great French Irishman Samuel Beckett wrote “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”
The French, the first great Republicans, will too.
Donal O’Dowd is an Engineer resident in Paris and previously in the Middle East.