As I write this the death toll from the jihadist attacks in Paris on Friday night stands at 129. Another 99 people are critically ill and 350 altogether were injured. As I read the news bulletins the following morning my first reaction was anger. Then came a deep sorrow: for those who lost their lives, for their families and friends, and for the ordinary citizens of Paris who no longer feel safe in the city they call home.
As the news began to sink in I began to wonder how we should react to these latest atrocities. Getting angry will not help; it will only encourage radicalised Muslims to fight harder for their cause. Sympathy is well and good but it doesn’t go far enough. Surely, there must be something practical we can do – all of us, those with faith and those without – to counter the poisonous rhetoric and deadly attacks of militant jihadists.
But it isn’t easy. Military action against the armies of Islamic State is, unfortunately, necessary to protect those of other faiths (and none) but it won’t soften the hearts of the IS fighters. Killing Jihadi John may have removed a prominent IS spokesperson and executioner but it also created another martyr for them. In the eyes of Islamic State this is irrefutable evidence that the West is waging a war on Islam itself.
More laws and tighter regulations won’t help much, either. Shootings and bombings have always been against the law. Incitement to violence is illegal, too. (I can only speak of the UK and, of course, I am not a lawyer.) Further monitoring of electronic communications might help the police to identify potentially dangerous groups and individuals but it’s hard to draw up laws that are both effective and non-discriminatory.
So, what can we do? We can and should voice our opposition to the IS doctrine of intolerance and violence towards non-Muslims. But we must do so sensitively and with due respect to both believers and non-believers. The reaction around the world so far has been exactly right. People have lit candles, brought flowers and gathered together to remember those Parisians who died. Buildings have been illuminated in red, white and blue to show solidarity with France. Little things, thoughtful, peaceful responses, the perfect counter to the unmitigated violence perpetrated by a few religious zealots.
As my small tribute to the people of Paris I have chosen John Lennon’s Imagine for my Track of the Week. Like many of Lennon’s compositions it’s a song with a simple tune and powerful lyrics. It asks us to imagine a world without conflict:
Nothing to kill or die for
It would be a world of peace and harmony, and there would be no place for religion. It’s a sentiment that strikes a huge chord with Crotchety Man. It seems to have inspired a Parisian pianist, too. Here’s a link to a video showing him towing his piano through the streets and playing Imagine for the people gathered in a square close to the Bataclan theatre where most of the victims perished.