I once lived in Paris. I worked for a telecommunications company near the Eifel Tower, doing a variety of jobs in translation, teaching and accounts.
I loved Paris. I would walk miles across the city, just looking and listening and watching and absorbing. I also went busking on my days off, except when I was writing a dissertation in German on some educational/legal issue. Back in the late 1970s it was a city of vibrant optimism, of cultural positivity and cosmopolitan joie de vivre. Problems in the banlieus were already recognised, although recent years have seen an explosion in the racial frustration that was incipient then. It remains to be seen if Friday's violence was planned and perpetrated from outside France or by 'insiders who see themselves as outsiders'.
Paris is now a city in mourning and France a country in fear. And if this mourning is shared across Europe, so should the fear. Paris will clearly not be the last of such atrocities.
But, I feel uneasy. Such violence is an everyday occurrence in parts of Africa and the Middle East. Last week suicide bombers caused death and mayhem in Beirut. Yet, we just read over it and move on. European cities apparently matter more; European lives are apparently more valuable.
The second cause of unease revolves around the liberal values that France embodies with its liberté, egalité, fraternité. Recently an archbishop in Erbil, Iraq, warned the West that the violence being poured onto his people would eventually find its way to Europe. He then went on to say the unsayable: that we might have to compromise some of our liberal values in order to counter the real challenge to our world and our freedom. He was ignored.
The next few months will see some focus on just how far we take this seriously. We want to be free from surveillance, but then want to be fully protected from killers who organise on encrypted social media. It's a tough call, but we can't have everything. So, how much of our freedom are we willing to sacrifice in order to secure greater protection? This is where one piece of rubber will hit one slab of road.
In the meantime, the avalanche of comment, analysis and judgement will gather pace. It is astonishing how, in the immediate aftermath of the violence in Paris, when little or nothing was known about what was being done by whom, the Internet was alive with words that could not be other than ignorant. Twitter was unbelievable: ignorance and confidence make for a terrible combination. And, of course, as facts become known over the next few days, the original judgements simply get forgotten as the narrative gets re-shaped with equal confidence. It is depressing to watch the utter lack of discipline – the one thing words demand.
In the Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales we put out a simple and practical statement:
The slaughter in Paris on Friday is shocking and horrifying.Cathedrals and churches have been actively using social media to offer their support and bring people together in prayer. Some are opening up and offering a space for local people to come together, to reflect, to show solidarity with the victims, maybe to light a candle and to pray. These are simple ways of opening a space for our neighbourhoods at a time of heightened anxiety.
United with others in grief and hope, we hold onto God's promise that perfect love casts out fear. Standing together, we must work hard to ensure that fear does not drive our communities apart.