I love Paris
Those anti-life butchers and the rolling back of freedoms
- Published 15.11.15
I love Paris in the springtime. I love Paris in the fall. I love Paris, in the winter, when it drizzles, I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles.
In the August of this year, I walked through Paris and noted the armed police everywhere. I stood in the queues going through security checks at museum entrances and wondered how they would react when the attacks came, not if, but when, because they were always coming. They were always coming because you can't police or secure a city which loves so many different pleasures, so many different freedoms, and with such intensity. They were always coming and maybe even from those of its own citizens, people who were walking next to us, who couldn't bear to partake in these pleasures, who couldn't understand sharing these freedoms, freedoms they are trying to roll back in Iraq and Syria as much as they are attacking them in Paris. These are people who will kill someone just because they want to openly kiss their lover on the street.
I love Paris, in the 1980s, even when I passed through the most racist immigration questioning in western Europe then. I love Paris despite the ghastly arrogance of so many of the French you meet outside France and indeed the know-it-all idiots inside the city. I love Paris because it's so French. I love Paris because it isn't so not French, because, like any great city, it belongs to the world.
I love Paris in the morning, when you can smell the diesel fumes mixing with cigarette smoke, when the whiff of strong coffee mixes with the smell of fresh croissants. I love Paris when I have no money for lunch, I love Paris when I find myself tasting some incredible French madness at dinner. I love Paris when I'm sitting in a buzzing bar at 4 am in the morning, arguing or laughing.
I love Paris because it has given me so much, the list of names too long to put down, the writers, the painters, the film-makers, the singers, the philosophers, far more than any other city. I love Paris because it has shaped so many of the artists and thinkers who are not from Paris, who have never been there. I love Paris because I'm from Calcutta.
I love Paris because this is the city that knows how to fight oppressors, whether they come in the finery of a king, in the uniform of the military, in evening suits in limousines, in paramilitary armour, or the robes of a priest of some pretension or other. I love Paris because it's one of the great places on earth which says a simple rude word to official religion - 'No!' I love Paris because it has taught us to laugh at those in power, to show them the finger and, again, say, 'No!'
I love Paris, but that doesn't mean I don't notice the bombs going off in Beirut or in Baghdad. Or Karachi or Kabul. I love Paris but that doesn't mean I've forgotten Bombay. I love Paris and I love New York, perhaps equally, but that doesn't mean I don't see the children murdered by the drone strikes, by the fighter planes.
After Bombay (and perhaps even before), attacks like these have installed themselves in the mind, and you can play out the scenarios in places far from Bombay and not so far. Kalashnikovs are relatively easy to move around, especially in the European Union with its open borders, and those guns were bound to be used to attack the idea of open borders in one of the few areas of the world where it is working. After the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in January, an equivocation crept in, even in the minds of many people who should have known better: 'murdering people is wrong but...' 'they shouldn't have been killed, of course not, but...' But they were racist against poor Arabs, but they unnecessarily offended people's religious sentiments, but you can understand the anger of the marginalized against a group of elite white people, but I can't be at an award ceremony that eulogizes this kind of humour.
There will, of course, be more equivocations now, maybe not from the same people but others. There will be more sophistry and a forest of further 'but's. But we have to look at what the Western powers are doing in Syria. But all the innocents the planes and drones have killed, what about them? But isn't the blood of an Iraqi child as precious as the blood of a Parisian child? But look, Beirut and Baghdad also happened on the same day and see how much coverage Paris is getting!
None of this will hold water. How are you going to equivocate away attacks on bars and restaurants, on a football match and a rock concert? Yes, the West has to answer for a lot but these suicide attacks were carried out by men, probably young men, who are the latest in a long line of people who have been brutalized, brainwashed and trained in the name of religion. The men themselves may sometimes come from poor backgrounds but the money for their puppet-masters comes from rich oil states, from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. This is not about Palestine or Kashmir, but yes, what Israel does when it rapes Gaza, what the Indian paramilitary does when it rapes women and kills children in Kashmir does feed into the toxic reactor of this Islamism.
I actually spent the early part of last evening watching the continuing comic horror show that was Narendra Modi's visit to England. I know what Modi is, I know all too well how he dresses, walks, talks, speaks at a podium, hobnobs with heads of State. But I was fascinated by a man walking behind Modi at the Wembley Stadium, the character memorably described by Channel 4 here as 'an extra in the Modi show'. The more I watched, the more I was filled with disgust and loathing. Here was a Prime Minister of Britain, taking about 'democracy', yet again shoving aside ethics to become a complete supplicant for his big business sector. Yes, he had no choice but to deal with the Prime Minister of India, but to lay on the hospitality with a trowel was another thing. Perhaps he had to meet the Indian PM in Downing Street, but he didn't have to arrange for his counterpart to speak to the MPs. And Cameron certainly didn't need to follow Modi to Wembley Stadium for his jamboree with the NRIs. But David Cameron is who he is: while his government talks of the 'moderate' Taliban and his security agencies cut deals with Islamist frontmen, this man stands at Wembley saying ' Namaste!', hunting for the Hindu and Hindutva votes. Just as his people tend to forget what one brand of Islamists have perpetrated on the world in order to contain a worse threat, Cameron and his government also seem to have erased that there were good reasons why Mr Modi was officially unwelcome in the UK for so many years. What people like Cameron don't understand is that they will never defeat the Islamist anti-life butchers unless they also challenge people like Egypt's Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and India's Modi on their human rights records.
Only a few hours after the Indian tricolours were taken down at Wembley, the stadium was lit in the Blue, White and Red of France, in solidarity with Paris. I have no great faith in any national colours for themselves, I see only what people do, bad or good, while waving whatever flag they happen to be waving. I love Paris because this is something I'm reminded of, every time I'm there.