It’s Sunday afternoon. What do I do on Sunday afternoon? I usually write a blog entry and sort out photos to illustrate it.
But this afternoon I’ve just been sitting here thinking about what happened in Paris on Friday night and wondering where my blog fits into a world where such unimaginable atrocities can happen and where a bunch of fanatics can cause so much grief to so many thousands of people in the name of their ideology.
I try to think what was going on in the minds of the killers who, with suicide vests strapped to their bodies, cold-bloodedly sprayed machine gun bullets into restaurants and then went on the slaughter so many young people at a rock concert. What were they thinking, what were they trying to achieve and what have they done?
My mind goes back to a February day in 2003 when Linda and I got on a train to London to add our voices to the other million or so people who marched through Central London to try to dissuade Tony Blair from taking Britain into President George W. Bush’s crusade in Iraq. Like many of the people on that march, it was the first time I had tramped the streets to protest about anything and it was a powerful sensation to be surrounded by such solidarity. What difference did it make? Absolutely none.
With a month of the march, and undeterred by being already embroiled in America’s war with the Taliban following 9.11, Britain obediently fell in line behind the United States, our armed forces mobilized, our jets started to fly and many people, mostly Iraqis, started to die. Lots of American companies made lots of money and Saddam Hussein was toppled.
George W. stood on the deck of an American warship, dressed in a macho leather jacket, framed by a huge “Mission Accomplished” banner, and hailed a famous victory for the western democracies.
Tony Blair started his long road to perdition, as he tried to back away from his assertion that Saddam had ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that were targeted at the UK and were ready to be fired at the UK at 45 minutes notice. No such weapons were ever found. (If this had been the plot of a Hollywood movie, people would have been coming out of the cinemas saying “Yeah, like that would ever happen!” But it did.)
Buoyed on the undoubted success of our military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which countries were transformed, as if by magic, into flourishing liberal democracies, inhabited by happy, smiling, prosperous and grateful citizens, our jets were in the air again in 2011 to help sort out the civil war in Libya. Oh and did I mention our contribution to Syria?
So last Friday evening a group of fanatics, filled with hatred for the West, a hatred fuelled either by the chaos that they have experienced themselves or by the radicalization of other people, brought the fight and the misery into the heart of Europe. Their supporters will argue that there is no difference between gunning down innocent bystanders in a Paris street and using drones controlled from an American Air Force base somewhere in Wyoming to bomb residential areas in Syria and kill civilians.
After all the blood and treasure that has been expended since 9.11, we end up with the so-called Islamic State and the biggest refugee crisis that Europe has seen since World War II. There has to be another way!
And what happens now? Western democracies cannot not react to an assault like the one in Paris and all countries are vulnerable to the vicious madness that is ISIS. Almost inevitably, more of our democratic freedoms will be lost in the cause of increased security and the need for surveillance.
Many Muslims have come out to disown ISIS and its perverted ideology, and to say that what ISIS is doing has nothing to do with the teachings of Islam, but I wonder whether the more extreme elements of the European countries will want to see the distinction between ordinary, peaceable Muslims living in our societies and the deranged fanatics who hit Paris on Friday.
I fear that the times they are a-changing and, in my more sombre moments, I am not sure that they are changing for the better.
As for the blog, I am not prepared to let the twisted minds that lay behind Friday’s atrocities change what I do, so I will continue to look for inconsequential stories and photos that might divert, amuse or entertain.
Just not today.