The words are Karl Kraus's in 'The Last Days of Mankind'...
I shan’t be holding a candle-lit vigil for Paris. I won’t be putting the French flag on my Facebook page or my Twitter masthead. I think I shall keep my own emotions and my own prayers for the dead to myself this time round. I shan’t, this time, be contributing my own platitudes to #JeSuisParis. Because however real the emotional responses, the words of explaining it all away are already out there. It’s kind of our fault. The best we can really hope for is that if we shut up, keep our heads down, and apologise for the fact that western civilisation is just about the worst thing that has ever happened to humanity, we might be able to keep massacres of this kind to a minimum. No one, repeat no one, in a position of political power in Europe believes that they can be prevented. They are with us now for the rest of our lives, and our children’s lives… God knows what then. We should not ‘go gently into that goodnight’, should we? But we are! When all the tears are shed, there will be no ‘rage against the dying of the light’, but a sense that in some way we are, ourselves, guilty of what’s happening to us, that our culture is a permanent affront to people who actually don’t share the vision we at least aspire to, of freedom, democracy, free-thinking, free-speaking, free-writing, true tolerance, open-mindedness, scientific and artistic adventure, and (yes, let’s say it) scepticism; scepticism about everything that isn’t true or isn’t real or isn’t generous or humane; the right to find some ideas ridiculous and say so! I don’t know whether John Kerry will dispatch James Taylor to Paris to sing, as he sang earlier this year, ‘You’ve Got a Friend’. Personally I hope he doesn’t, but either way I won’t be linking arms with anyone to march through the streets to express my shock and grief, and to tell the phalanxes of journalists that I have no idea, no idea whatsoever, why any of this is happening (other than that the internet is, somehow, without human agency, radicalising people into doing it – not that this radicalising actually involves any ideas or ideology; that’s important to say). I won’t be applauding the presence of some among those linking arms who have already announced that this was all done by Israeli Intelligence, so that I can claim that because those who couldn’t give a flying f**k about the Paris dead were there, it proves that ‘all humanity’ is united in grief. I won’t be singing ‘Give Peace a Chance’ with people who feel that we are best pretending these murders are acts indistinguishable from a couple of people caught up, by accident, in the cross-shooting of a drug turf war (‘They’re not terrorists simply criminals’). I won’t be pretending we can solve the ‘problem’ by offering ‘courses’ on tolerance either, that are defined by a gleeful rush to abandon the most cherished beliefs of the Enlightenment - on the basis that our freedoms are getting in the way of other people’s freedom to be murderously unfree, and if we f**k reason, f**k history, f**k art, f**k science, f**k thought, f**k truth, they might just leave us alone. I won’t be nodding and frowning wisely with the media sages who are already telling me that if we improve housing conditions in Paris and refrain from asking if there might be a problem of some kind with what the people responsible for these massacres passionately and sincerely believe is right, then it’ll all be fine. Well, it’s a misunderstanding on their part really. I shall instead of all that (candles and holding hands and ‘You’ve Got a Friend’) be reflecting on the shame of what we have all made our contribution to; the shame of the climate of thought that has made the dead bodies in Paris inevitable, and will make more dead bodies in western cities everywhere inevitable in the years to come. I won’t think too much about any dead bodies in the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv (if they’re Jewish anyway), because Jews have asked for it (sorry, I meant Israelis, but it’s an easy mistake, people make it all the time). After all, we might want to remember that in the last Paris massacre, when a Jewish supermarket was attacked by a killer announcing he was there specifically to kill Jews, President Obama described this as someone ‘randomly shooting a bunch of folks in a deli’. There is a wonderful ‘homeliness’ about that expression ‘bunch of folks’; it almost makes you wish you’d been there. And of course there was the dear old BBC, not institutionally anti-Semitic by any stretch of the imagination, sending a man called Tim Willcox hot-foot to Paris (Mr Willcox likes to ask questions on BBC radio about ‘Jewish conspiracies’ and ‘Jewish money’ controlling politics). While the bodies of dead French Jews were being carried out of the supermarket, Mr Willcox did some incisive vox-pops with French Jews (happily they hadn’t been shopping the previous day) and asked them if, in the light of the ‘situation in Palestine’, they could see the ‘point of view’ of someone who wanted to shoot Jews. In response to complaints the BBC later judged this a ‘perfectly reasonable’ question. To be fair to Mr Willcox, at least he accepted that Jews were being killed for being Jews rather than that they were ‘a random bunch of folks in a deli’; but then he isn’t a renowned orator. I will also reflect on the shame I feel for the articles I read in the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Irish Times, and a dozen other newspapers and magazines, which said and continue to say, in the nicest and most liberally ‘concerned’ way possible, that the cartoonists and journalists at ‘Charlie Hebdo’ had asked for what they got (a bit like Jews really). If you go around saying things people don’t like, what do you expect? There can have been few demonstrations of the depths of shame we have been plumbing in our death-embrace of those who are dedicated to the dying of light, than the refusal of a group of writers (they don’t deserve naming) to attend a ceremony at which the dead at ‘Charlie Hebdo’ were given an award for free speech from PEN, an organisation established in the wake of Nazism in Europe to defend and support writers in the face of the brutal and barbaric suppression of free speech; to fight against writers being imprisoned, tortured and murdered for saying things ‘people don’t like’. And if you thought this wasn’t already happening again, it is. It has already been announced by various Arab press outlets that Israeli Intelligence was responsible for the massacre in Paris; apparently we feel that’s so reasonable, from such sources, that it goes unremarked, and so unchallenged that our own media will absorb it by osmosis and end up peddling it, above and below the 'Comment' line. (The idea that the Israelis were responsible for the Charlie Hebdo and Jewish supermarket killings has now appeared in the pages of what are still considered respectable newspapers in America and Europe, so don't expect 'Israel to blame for Paris' to simply stay in the gutters; as the meme enters the mainstream we'll soon all be wallowing in the gutters with it, but definitely not looking at the stars!) Several pundits have remarked that 'we' (they mean the 'bunch of folks' that is 'us', and don't really include themselves) now know what everyone else on the planet is on the receiving end of every day, so there is a positive side to it all. An Irish politician (undeserving of a name here) told us within hours of the massacres that it was ‘terrible’ for the victims but that since France is responsible for ‘militarising the planet’... tough luck, mes amis! We have been told since the first moments the news started to come through that the violence is aimless and pointless; it is of course nothing of the kind. The fact that the killers knew exactly what they were doing and why is, we are expected to hold as an article of 'faith', their mistake; our politicians, pundits and journalists know better than that. We are meant to find it reassuring, our leaders believe, that the reasons these people have for massacring ‘bunches of folks’ in what they called the ‘Capital of Adultery and Vice’ (and we once called the ‘Mother of the Enlightenment’ – see which one sticks) are simply a lack of understanding – of ignorance. A simple explanation of where they are going wrong on the 'intolerance front' (from Obama, Merkel, Cameron, and chums, sadly Hollande too) could clear the matter up. We await that explanation, but are thankful that our leaders know so much more than we do. We are, three days on, still being told in places that the ‘motives’ are unclear; there are still journalists scratching their heads. Poor housing in parts of Paris was, of course, out there as a major cause within minutes of the first deaths, before the Bataclan slaughter. Wouldn’t you think the French government could build a few blocks of flats and stop this tomorrow? And of course you won’t see too much on Sky or the BBC, or anywhere else, about the fact that the Bataclan Theatre was Jewish-owned until only a month ago. It's random, you see, aimless, meaningless.
Random, don't you get it?
Keep ‘random’ in mind. It is all totally and completely random! Hold on to that when you hold your children tighter tonight. It is random. There is no reason or explanation. No ideas are involved that we can question. Random! (That’s when it’s not at least a partially understandable response to the evil that is our civilisation and the unemployment rate.) And after all, as an American politician said yesterday, ‘ISIS isn’t necessarily evil, it’s made up of people doing what they think is best for their community’. Whacky? Not really. Actually, that is exactly what they think. But meanwhile, we who are all now Obama's ‘bunches of folks’ had better get used to it .
There will be a lot more to come.
And unfortunately it’s all our own fault, ‘folks’!
It is no accident that some of what happened took place in the Boulevard Voltaire. The Enlightenment is under attack not only from outside, but from too many who claim to be its children...