Do public wars require private obstinacy? Mourning for Paris

I was at Reflex 80s celebrating a life event when we saw breaking news of the atrocities in Paris. The night never recovers from that.

Paris is the last place I visited outside the UK, to commemorate Alphaville’s 30th anniversary in 2014. It’s always going to hold fond memories. Coincidentally, Alphaville was played last night to much enjoyment.

Jet Set was described by the band as a ‘jingle that advertises things money can’t buy: anarchy, freedom, love, fun, and a piece of the end of the world’. It’s a strangely apt sentiment, given what followed.

Today, Paris is all over the news and social media. Many friends of mine have commented, engaged in debate, and adopted the profile picture overlay of the French flag. Regrettably, I feel that I can’t.

We’re fighting a war that panders to, and contains too much importance in, the public sphere. ISIL (or whatever we call the damn thing) might want to return us to the Stone Age, but its inopportune success in terms of recruitment and reputation has come through an astute understanding of the public sphere.

As the ill-conceived ‘War on Terror’ marches on, this dark episode is playing itself out in the full glare of social media. ISIL has marketed itself and its horrific endeavours well enough to the right audience to know exactly what it wants to gain.

Its mission isn’t solely to scare us, I don’t think. To an extent, it’s trying to divide, and there are grim flashes of Islamophobia online everywhere you look. But it also knows the power of the public sphere to unite as much as divide. The attack on Charlie Hebdo was proof of an international ability to gather and support a unified cause.

ISIL knows the majority of the world will be defiant. It knows the majority of people will denounce it. It knows that the world’s anger towards it strengthens as it receives increasing levels of exposure.

To those ends, its chief goal can only be to unite people against it. By doing so, we are inadvertently glorifying the broader division between terrorists and citizenship and bolstering the sense of martyrdom that drives these campaigns into action.

Believing this, as I do, is hard. How do you denounce terrorism without speaking about it? How do you commemorate the dead and contribute towards collective messages about the pointless loss of life without sounding it loudly? How do we affirm our systems of belief and our sense of humanity as contrary to those of terrorists without engaging publicly?

I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know how to stop giving ISIL what it wants.

That is to absorb, to grieve, to loath values that care so little for the value of life – but to do so as privately as we may. We don’t give ISIL the glory and the gratification and the means towards further martyrdom it craves.

This is a war that is symbiotically linked to the public sphere. And unfortunately, the more we feed it, the more it has the capacity to grow.

And with that, I’m now questioning the irony of writing publicly about avoiding publicity. We may never fully comprehend the reasons behind these tragedies; nor, unfortunately, the best solutions to overcome them.

Sacre Coeur Fountains


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