Paris - writers' responses
By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
How have writers in France reacted to the appalling events of November 13? After President Hollande’s eloquent statement of resolve to the two chambers of the French Parliament on November 16 – “Je veux que la France puisse rester elle-même” – and the unanimous vote for a three-month state of emergency have come the expressions of shock and disbelief: that a second atrocity could hit Paris in the space of ten months, and on a much larger scale, and with such apparent randomness.
With a horrible irony or prescience, Le Monde of Saturday 14 (which went to press before the attacks) carried a long article by the psychoanalyst Fethi Benslama about the ways in which, for some “desperate people, radical Islam is an exciting product”.
In a symposium on November 20 in the same paper, which solicited the views of twenty-nine writers, there was a unanimity of sentiment but some divergence of opinion. The novelist Olivier Rolin – not one to mince his words – rejects the notion that the atrocities “have nothing to do with Islam . . . . Jihadism is undoubtedly a disease of Islam, but it has exactly the same relation with that religion as a disease has with the body it’s devouring. ‘It’s a tiny minority.’ Without doubt. But several thousand ‘radicalized’ [people] in our country is no small matter. The leftist groupuscules of the post-68 years (to which I belonged) were scarcely more numerous. Or the Russian Bolsheviks, but that didn’t stop them from constructing one of the two great totalitarian systems of the XXth century”.
Agnès Desarthe, who lives near the Place de la République (i.e. near where the attacks took place), on a more personal level describes how from 10 pm onwards people started calling to check that she and her family were ok. “Our children frequent the places which we’re now seeing images of on TV on a loop.”
The Egyptian writer Alaa El Aswany, meanwhile, points out that “millions of us owe a lot to France – access to art, . . . culture, the principles of the Revolution . . . . Ever since the XIXth century most Egyptian thinkers and writers have been francophone”.
Geneviève Brisac points out that in the past it was the far-right Front National that used to get “pissed off” at France’s youth. Now Islamic State has targeted that demographic, describing Paris as the “capital of abominations and of perversion”.
According to Joyce Carol Oates, writing from the US, “For many of us Americans, Paris is the ideal city, the most beautiful city in the world, and to see it hit right in its heart is shattering . . . . Parisians’ refusal to be intimidated is a model for all nations”.
The Goncourt Prize-winning Jérôme Ferrari takes a more jaundiced view: “Who would dare criticize this society that is so festive, so subtly transgressive that it provokes, through its very perfection, the rage of these bad people [méchants]?”
In the weekly journal Le Point, the Paris-based British writer Andrew Hussey (author of The French Intifada: The long war between France and its Arabs, 2014) writes of how the riots in 2005, ruthlessly quelled by the Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, were a “prelude” to recent events. The novelist and member of the Académie française Amin Maalouf predicts that the struggle against Islamism will last beyond his generation. More provocatively, Kamel Daoud, the author of the acclaimed anti-Étranger novel Meursault, contre-enquête (The Meursault Investigation), writes: “All this comes from one matrix, one country, one kingdom: there’s no point in fighting against a badly dressed Daech in Syria while shaking hands with a well-dressed Daech in Saudi Arabia”.