An open letter to my american friends
These last days, I’ve been more often than usually on the internet, checking for news, both global news and news of some friends – and all my friends ended well. I made this mostly through Facebook, and was comforted by the signs of solidarity from the whole world – and especially from the US. There was, however, something a bit annoying in the way many americans expressed their solidarity, something that might just have been a bit clumsy, but might also show echoes of good old cultural imperialism.
It started in the very first hours after the event, when I was still hearing the procession of ambulances under my windows. It started with the proliferation on the internet of these « Pray for Paris » pictures.
I know that a large majority of american people are believers in one religion or another. In France, though most people have been baptized to please the odd grandmother, a majority of the people, and an overwhelming majority of the young and of the Parisians, define themselves as atheists or agnostics. Solidarity has to be inclusive, and while a call for prayers might sound inclusive for Americans, it can only be perceived here as discriminating, as a way to tell to the majority of the Parisian that they are not even worthy of showing their solidarity to their dead friends. This is even more true when the victims were killed in the name of religion.
Furthermore, the young people killed were watching a soccer match, drinking wine in open bars and, for most of them, listening to rock music. The killers want to forbid all of this and make us pray.
In a way, even if your idea of God is completely different from theirs, if you answer with prayers, they have won. Answer with more dancing, drinking and partying is probably more difficult, but if we manage to do it, and that’s what we are trying to do in Paris now, they have failed. French religious authorities, be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish, have felt the mood quite well and been very discreet so far.
I am extremely grateful to Facebook for their safe check feature, which helped me track a few friends immediately after the events, though why it was not implemented in Beyrouth the day before remains a disturbing question. But I am also a bit angry against Facebook for their « French flag » feature, a clumsy decision probably taken in a hurry, in some Californian office, with the purest intentions but without any consideration neither at what was really targeted in the killings, nor at the French political situation.
It is not, or not only, France which was attacked last Friday. The terrorists deliberately targeted people having fun – in a stadium, in bars, in restaurants, in one of the best Parisian rock concert venue. The target was Partying as much as France, and a symbol of Parisian life like the Eiffel tower, or a glass of wine, much better fitted as a sign of solidarity than a nationalist flag. Anyway, the feature was implemented in Facebook, and it is so easy to use it that French flags are now everywhere, thus giving the wrong idea that what is happening is a war of nations.
While this was indeed the Revolution flag in the late XVIIIth and XIXth century, the blue-white-red banner is now used only in very official occasions. It is not, like the US flag, in everyone’s garden. Only the nationalist right wing sports it everywhere. Immediately after the event, European artists had started too paint and spread a few commemorative images, mostly in grey or black – there was a really nice one with the Eiffel Tower inside the Peace symbol. All of them had carefully avoided the use of the national colors, in order to prevent any nationalist recuperation.
Anyway, once more, I heartily thank all the people who have used this feature, and I thank Facebook because it was much better than nothing, but I regret that they didn’t take just one or two hours to find something more subtle.
So, it’s really great, in times of stress, to feel the solidarity of friends. I heartily thank my many American friends for their shows of solidarity. I must say however, in the most friendly way, that it felt sometimes a bit like the old uncle at a funeral, always trying to comfort everyone and saying just the wrong thing – but we love him nevertheless.
BTW, Beyrouth also was a place of fun, partying and open bars, but it was long ago.