I consider myself to be something of a purist when it comes to the English language, which is hardly surprising since I’ve spent most of my adult life working as a translator/editor/writer. I try to avoid profanities, and will rarely even press ‘Like’ for Facebook items that use them.
However, every rule has to have its exception, and the recent terrorist attacks that have been perpetrated in France, where I’m holidaying at the moment, have brought me to cast aside all my scruples about linguistic propriety and define the individuals who committed those outrages in the terms above (or worse).
Brought up in what seems in retrospect to have been the idyllic atmosphere of England in the 1950s, albeit in conditions of relative poverty and privation, I have imbibed the values and attitudes of a caring and egalitarian society, founded on the principles of justice and decency that stem from the Judeo-Christian tradition.
That may be why it is so difficult for me to understand what goes through the mind of a young man anywhere, anytime who takes a truck and ploughs through a crowd of people celebrating an evening of fireworks marking Bastille day, or wields a knife or gun to cold-bloodedly murder a middle-aged couple, an elderly priest, or a group of children together with their teacher.
I’m no psychologist, I admit, but it seems to me that there are too many people out there with criminal or psychopathic tendencies, and when those individuals are encouraged by a certain religion to go out and kill anyone who does not share their religious or political or national views the result is the kind of atrocity we have witnessed in the last few weeks.
Back in the Middle Ages it was considered acceptable to kill those who disagreed with you, and even Christianity, the religion of brotherly love, has engaged in activities of that kind in the past (think of the Crusades, the Huguenots, the Wars of Religion in Europe that ended with ‘cuius regio eius religio,’ whereby the ruler’s subjects follow his religion).
However, the generally accepted view till now has been that the defeat or collapse of the societies that perpetrated atrocities in Europe in recent years has put an end to modern acts of barbarity, with the establishment of the European Union constituting the cornerstone of the new era of international peace and cooperation.
Unfortunately, however, no one seems to have paid sufficient attention to what has been happening in distant corners of the Middle East and the Arabian peninsula, where the methods and mores of the Middle Ages still prevail. Now, it seems, those trends and attitudes have managed to spread their tentacles beyond that region, a process that is facilitated by the movement of people resulting from the barbarism of their own rulers.
Here, in rural France, where all is peaceful and the countryside a symphony in green, hearing and reading about those horrific incidents in another part of the country makes one shudder and wonder whether life can ever be the same again in the country of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. How can rampant barbarism exist in the country that has produced the highest expressions of human achievement in the arts, philosophy and science?
In an ‘Open letter to a Candidate for Jihad,’ Zineb el Rhazoui, a young journalist of Moroccan origin, writes in last week’s ‘Le Figaro’ magazine of her contempt for those young men who, unlike her, have grown up in France, benefited from that country’s free education and medical care, are more fluent in French than in Arabic, and don’t even know what the word Jihad means (effort, she says). They are so brainwashed by their religious leaders, she claims, that they are ready to abandon every shred of decency and respect for human life. She ends her article by pointing out that Muslims and Arab culture play a prominent part in modern France, and that it would be better for those young men and for society at large if they were to invest their energies in helping others and contributing to the wider society rather than indulging in a frenzy of destruction and murder that benefits no one, least of all themselves.
If only her voice would penetrate the thick skulls of those bloody barbarians.