It is now a month since the Friday 13th terrorist attacks in Paris and some things have not changed. The train drivers are on strike again, the Christmas markets are back and the shops are full of goodies and glitter. But there are not that many people about and the numbers of tourists are definitely down.
My colleague Bertrand was delighted to get into the rescheduled U2 concert in the Bercy arena in Paris last Sunday as he had been unable to get a ticket for the original gig (which had been postponed because of the terrorist attacks) but it spoke volumes about the state of this City of Light that a headline event with the great Irish band would be undersubscribed.
On my amble the other night through the brightly lit cobbled streets in the St Michel area, there was an eerie emptiness in the near deserted restaurants and cafes. These are the weeks before Christmas after all and normally one would be flattened by the party mood. But a grieving silence descends like a bad winter gloom on the night life of Paris. Normally the taciturn waiters here would barely acknowledge the arrival of a new customer but now there is a hint of desperation in their sudden civility and plastic smiles.
There is no overpowering presence of the military or police but deep down everybody fears another attack. My French colleagues openly talk about avoiding going into the city and their fears about another attack. I am searched twice when I enter my office building and the sudden appearance of these goon-like security men everywhere makes me wonder where these characters came from.
One cannot take a trip on the Metro without thinking that at any moment a suicide bomber might walk onto the platform. Take a look at an immigrants face or a listen to a strangers conversation in a Semitic dialect and shamefully and unwittingly one begins to wonder the worst. The threshold for fear and loathing has been lowered and in a sense it is as if the terrorists have won the first round of the war. They have created this poisonous atmosphere. France is in an official state of emergency that has been extended well into the new year and the government is enacting severe security measures. Out of sight and only scarcely reported in the media they have begun shutting down the radical mosques, forbidding mass gatherings, limited the movement of certain people ad hoc and given power to the security services to act without judicial oversight This emergency harks back to the start of the Algerian war in the 1950s and gives exceptional powers to authorities. Ordinary law-abiding Muslims are complaining that they are unjustly targeted but nowadays, who wants to listen to them?
The far right Front National headed by Marie le Pen surged to victory in the first round of the French Regional elections last week. Mme Le Pen argues that France cannot take in more Muslim immigrants and this phobia feeds on the widespread anxiety about immigration and the fear of further terrorist attacks. The mainstream parties seem to be in disarray and Prime Minister Valls plays a feeble catch -up with his warning to the EU leaders about limiting the numbers of Syrian refugees and his obsession with enforcing the ban on the wearing of the Burqa in public.
At the emotional U2 concert, Bono, with the French flag wrapped around his shoulders told the crowd in Bercy ‘Tonight, the. We are all Parisians...If you love liberty, Paris is your hometown." A giant screen listed the names of the Paris dead of Friday 13th .
The band earlier had played their signature tune “Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and the screens showed photographs of victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings . This was part of the original show before the Paris bombings. It prompted the Rolling Stone music critic to write ‘Hearing these songs, which are animated by the dark history of religious war in Ireland, it's spooky to realize how well they speak to today's fight against Islamic fundamentalism.’
While, the horrors of war and indiscriminate bombing are repugnant to all, I am not quite sure that many would be happy with the juxtapositioning of the ‘Troubles’ with the apocalyptic Daesh terror campaign to destroy western civilization. Maybe the crusading crooner himself could clarify in a future concert that not all the wars in Ireland are about religious hatred?