Monday, 16 November 2015

Pour Paris, Psaume 90

Psaume 90

 Seigneur, tu as été pour nous  un réfuge  de generation en generation.
Avant que les montagnes  soient nées, avant que tu aies créé la terre et le monde, d'éternité tu es Dieu.
Tu fais retourner les hommes à la poussière et tu leur dis: "Fils d'Adam, retrournez à la terre!"
car mille  ans sont à tes yeux comme la journée d'hier: elle passe comme le quart de la nuit.
Tu  les emportes, semblables à un rêve  qui, le matine, passe come l'herbe.
elle fleurit le matin et elle passe; on la coupe le soir et elle sèche.
Nous sommes consumés par ta colére, et ta fureur nous épouvante.
Tu mets devant toi nos fautes, et ta lumière éclair nos sécrets.
Tous nos jours disparaissent  à cause de ta colère; nous voyons nos annéess s'éteindre comme un soupir.
La durée de notre vie s'élève  à soixante-dix ans, et pour les plus robustes, à quatre-vingt ans, mais l' orgueil qu'ils en tirent n'est que  peine et misère, car le temps passe vite et nous nous envolons.
Qui à conscience de la force de ta colère et de ton courroux pour te craindre?
Enseigne-nous à bien compter nos jours, afin que notre coeur parvienne à la sagesse!
Reviens, Eternel!  Jusqu'à quand? Aie pitié de tes serviteurs.
Rassasie-nous chaque matin de ta bonté, et nous serons toute notre vie. dans la joie et l'allégresse.
Réjouis-nous autant de jours que tu nous as humiliés, autant d'années que nous avons connu le malheur.
Que ton activité soit visible pour tes serviteurs, et ta splendeur pour leurs enfants.
Que la grâce de l'Eternal, votre Dieu, soit sur nous!  Affirmis l'oeuvre de nos mains! Oui, afirmis l'oeuvre de nos mains!

Or, as Isaac Watts (1674 - 1748) so ably put it:

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast, 
And our eternal home . . . . .

This is one of those occasions when only the words of the liturgy can safely express our feelings.

Words are equally important in discussing the appropriate reaction.

I feel it is a mistake to refer to a "war" on terror.  Wars are traditionally between nations and are seen to legitimise the use of violence.  So declaring "war" on the terrorists can, in their eyes, legitimise their use of violence in return.  Rather we should be organising  police action against criminals.  This would have been a more appropriate response to to the attack on the twin towers in New York than President Bush's "War on Terror,"  with its tragic and on-going consequences in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Some years ago Game Theory was very popular in economics, and possibly still is.  It is also used in war "Games,"  but no one seems to be "gaming" the likely reaction to even more violent and indiscriminate attacks on areas dominated by ISIS, however understandable this reaction might be.  Surely the result will be to recruit yet more impressionable Muslim youngsters to take up the "cause," egged on by the deluded fundamentalists who preach hate.

Then we must be very wary of  creating a division between the allegedly Christian West and Islam.  I felt it a mistake, after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, for a largely white, largely western, largely nominally Christian, line up of leaders (including Merkel, Cameron and, I think, Obama, along with President Hollande) to proclaim Je suis Charlie.  Surely this was akin to a red rag to a bull for Island fundamentalists and may have facilitated the recruitment of some of Friday's murderers.

President Obama called Friday's atrocity "an attack on our civilisation."  Indeed it was, but how does this sound in the ears of extremist Muslims, who may  adduce an implication that Islamic countries are not civilised, or not as civilised, as ours?  They may also take the view that much that passes for Western civilisation, with its emphasis on consumerism (greed), sex, alcohol-fuelled hedonism, lack of respect for the family and the elderly, is far inferior to their ideal. I know nothing of the music of Eagles of Death Metal but I suspect that their lyrics hardly count as elevated thought.

It is also possible that France's determined laïcité (forbidding the wearing of the headscarf or veil by public servants, for example) exacerbates divisions and is another provocation which assists the recruiters.  Our own more relaxed attitude (so far anyway) may be more appropriate in a world where the mixing of cultures is becoming the norm.

Today's papers a full of pictures of the murdered, with, in may cases, details of their lives.  An article on the front page of the Guardian states: 

The trauma is far from over.  There have been 132 people killed, and scores were severely wounded.  Behind those statistics  there are lives , dreams, hopes crushed.. . .

True, and also true of anyone killed in last night's retaliatory bombing of  Raqqa, those killed in various places by American drones, the thousands of dead in Afghanistan and Iraq which we didn't even bother to count, many of whom were completely innocent but whose deaths or injuries were dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders as "collateral damage" or merely "stuff happens."  And refugees seeking a better life who drowned in the Mediterranean and whom we didn't rescue because it might tempt others to try.

I realise the above is largely a catalogue of what we shouldn't do.  I have no magic solution but would suggest the following priorities:

  • refer to   "an international police operation to catch criminals" rather than  "a war against terror;"
  • search urgently for a political solution to the civil war in Syria, urging those already bombing to cut back, with the UK under no circumstances joining in:
  • stop using "Western " military force in a vain attempt to solve problems in the Middle East;
  • urge Muslim countries to take a leading role in tackling problems in Muslim or largely Muslim countries.  Only they should use (police style) force on the occasions when it is necessary;
  • urge Muslim leaders and clerics to continue to be, and be even more, outspoken in their condemnation of violence;
  • in the UK, discontinue the creation of yet more faith schools, and gradually withdraw state support for those that exist.


  1. Your French is impeccable.
    Rhetoric is dangerous indeed but it is impossible not to take some sort of stance against such extremism. One cannot just turn the other cheek?
    It seems we are returning to the 16th century wars of religion, but with far more deadly weapons of violence.
    I am afraid I don't see how suicide bombers can be deterred.

  2. Terrorism has been with us for a long time, and will probably be with us for many more years. The earliest example I can think of off the cuff is Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, but I'm sure that, as an historian, you can think of at least half a dozen more. (I'd be interested in your list.)

    As you point out, the two new dimensions are much deadlier weapons and, even more seriously, people who use them being prepared to commit suicide for their cause.

    It is difficult to think of a constructive response but equally important, via "game theory" or otherwise, not to make things worse. There's an article in today's Guardian by a Frenchman who was held hostage by IS for many months so knows their minds pretty well. He believes that retaliatory the air-strike was a mistake as it was just what IS wanted.

    See -

    There are also some letters which make similar points:

    See -

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    1. Corrected version of the above:

      To illustrate the point that terrorism has been with us for a long time I asked Stuart, who is an historian, to give us some examples that pre- date the example we commemorate most, the Gunpowder Plat.

      Here's his list:

      Pre 1605 terror:
      Persecution of the Jews (York and the Massacre of March 1190 at Clifford's Tower)
      Paris St Bartholomew's Day Massacre (0f the Huguenots)
      The Pilgrimage of Grace - executions of Yorkshire catholics in 16th century
      Persecution of the Cathars in southern France
      Early German atrocities in the Reformation - supported by Luther
      The Spanish Inquisition
      14th century Watt Tyler and the Peasants' Revolt
      I suppose most of the Crusades

      I can't see terrorism going away. We must learn to react to it in a manner that, at the very least, doesn't make matters worse