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The regularisation of grief: A street memorial in Paris for the victims of the November attacks (photo: Jean-Francois Gornet CC BY SA 2.0)

This is how it happens these days, isn’t it? Last February it was during an interval at the theatre, turning on my mobile phone to find a text from a friend in Copenhagen saying the bullets had just missed her but that she was alive. A few weeks earlier, it had been a broadcaster asking for reaction on Paris before I had heard anything about it or whether any friends had been killed. This time it was a text from a close family member at a dinner in Paris I had chosen to miss in order to try to finish my book on Islam and Europe. They said there had been shooting nearby but they were fine. I texted back that perhaps they should get the bill and go home. Soon the phone began to ring and snapshots of the horror in Paris began to flood in.

The crazy ring-arounds have become a feature of modern European life. Then the lucky ones have the stories of the near-misses: friends who left before the attack, those who survived because they chose to drop their bag off at home before heading to the restaurant. Facebook has a new feature where people can signal themselves “safe” after a major incident anywhere. There is something comforting and horrifying about this. It’s not a surprise to me because I know this is normal life in Israel. But Israel’s normal has become Europe’s normal — a fact that is difficult to accept.


The challenge to modern Europeans seems to me to be this: how do we stop just being sad? After Charlie Hebdo everyone said they were Charlie. Instead of everybody in Paris holding up cartoons of Muhammad to show they would not live under Islamic blasphemy law everyone held up a pencil or changed their Facebook status to “Je Suis”. And after a few days it melted away into nothing. After Copenhagen it was all a bit more half-hearted: fewer people killed, fewer people with friends there. After the latest attacks in Paris there was the posting of tricolores, yet another vigil in Trafalgar Square in “solidarity”. Late the next night I went to the French embassy: silent and deserted save for bouquets of flowers and some candles still guttering. “How many times are we going to have to do this?” I kept thinking. How regular do our trips have to be to show solidarity, or grief? And what — beyond grief — can French or other European citizens do? Are we an entirely passive people? Can we be anything more than mourners at our own funeral?

There is a man who turns up after terrorist attacks with a keyboard and plays John Lennon’s “Imagine”. This time he turned up the day after the Paris atrocities and played the song outside the Bataclan theatre where concertgoers had been gunned down by the jihadists. Channel 4 News, among others, was much taken by this spectacle. I think it almost insulting.

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Observer of the Scene
December 7th, 2015
10:12 AM
"But Israel’s normal has become Europe’s normal — a fact that is difficult to accept." Difficult to accept, but easy to understand. Both regions are enriched by the Religion of Peace. That was inevitable in Israel's case, but came about in Europe because of the treachery of our politicians, media and academics, who ignored the wishes of the electorate and insisted that only ignorant racists and xenophobes could object to huge numbers of people moving to Europe from the Third World. What could possibly go wrong, you plebs?

November 26th, 2015
6:11 PM
That's some moderation Q you have, do you want comments or not?

November 26th, 2015
5:11 PM
Well said, DM. Some on the left are nearly a big a problem as Islamic State.

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