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.
Beautifully said. Thank you.
This is a perspective that I suspect few in the U.S. understand; it has certainly opened my eyes. I fully intend to show this to my non-gamer friends. Fascinating letter, Bruno–thank you for taking the time to write it.
Well, I respectfully disagree. I mean, you feel what you feel, but I disagree with some of the ideas you expressed here, and I thought they deserved a developed answer.
I am French, and a gamer, and I love partying and drinking, and I like going to concerts (not that I have a chance to go very often, I’d have to take a plane to go to the nearest rock venue). And I see no contradiction between any of that and my Christian faith.
Answering a terrorist act with a prayer does not concede anything to the terrorists. Or have you forgotten they also kill people who do not pray the way they want? I think that most of the people who posted the “pray for Paris” pictures did not mean to forgo partying. They meant to show support and show that their faith was not opposed to partying and party-goers. Can’t you see that when you write that answering with a prayer means terrorists have won, you’re awfully close to saying all believers are (potential) terrorists? We recuse that kinship you want to assert, because denying them victory is denying them the right to define our religions, just as much as it is denying them a say in how we spend our Friday nights.
You do have a point when you say the message “pray for Paris” could be discriminating (actually I say “could be” you wrote “can only be”). Though most of my French non-believer friends on FB didn’t seem to take offense (by the way, I did pray, but did not post about it). Their answers were more along the line of “thanks for your support guys, but I’ll just have a drink instead.” On the other hand it is hard to be all inclusive. Not “pray for Paris” but “drink for Paris,” ok. But as you said, there are victims of terrorism in many other cities, so let’s not mention Paris. “Drink.” Not bad, but some people don’t drink (alcohol) without being terrorists. So, “think of Paris”, and just “Think.” That’s good advice.
All kidding aside, I do understand your point about feeling excluded from the message and I’m glad you see it for what it was, a heartfelt show of support from a community that actually prays.
I totally agree with you on the flag thing. But I would go further, because I’m not quite sure it was better than nothing on FB’s part. But that’s another debate that has more to do about social networks than religion or politics.
By the way, it goes without saying that I wasn’t just passing by. I was reading your post because I’ve read your blog since the old “ludothèque idéale” days. It is the second time I’ve felt the urge to answer. The first time was when you explained (last January) that you thought believers were intellectually lazy cowards. It was insulting and meant as such, but if your point was also to explain that gaming and religion are structurally antithetical (“I want to stress here that my passion for gaming and my hostility toward all religions are inseparable”), you forgot to make it. But hey, as long as you make good games, I won’t complain too loud. Cheers!