Entered merely for the record, I must mention that it is with a heavy heart, and heavier tears still, that I write again today under the dark cloud of the consequences stemming from the attacks on Paris, my native land. Born on its outskirts, in Boulogne Billancourt in 1969, so close in fact that the curb on the other side of the street was the City of Lights, I bathed in its murky waters until I left for more exotic ones to New York City 18 years later. I didn’t enjoy it or its people when I was there because rejection of one’s homeland is what you’re supposed to do and I’m a predictable sort of fellow. Even once moved across the ocean, I never connected with the numerous French community there who mostly kept to themselves, seemingly more intent on preserving their Latin roots than integrating the wilder, and to me infinitely more interesting, fabric of America.
I wouldn’t properly discover that part of me until many years later, until it was attacked in the offices of Charlie Hebdo… Until then, I must admit that I believed I had fashioned myself on my own. Sure, borrowing from the left and right side of the Atlantic at whim, but feasting on the cultural buffet and shaping a way of life I thought was all mine, particular and special.
But I am not special and this way of life is not mine, it does not belong to me, it belongs to the French, it belongs to Paris.
Human stupidity is sadly a global epidemic, hitting us from NYC to Beirut, from Paris to Hebron, from the start of my street to the end of yours. No one is immune and there seems to be no cure to the belief that my God is better than yours, an opinion punishable by death ever since both were invented. And that anger grows never more bitter than against civilizations where God routinely stays out of the affairs of men, as in French secular society.
I remember hearing someone on TV when I was a kid defending the freedom of another they explicitly didn’t agree with, and that felt normal. I remember hearing politicians freely swearing at each other on prime time TV yet the mention of product brands getting bleeped, and that felt normal. I remember humorists, from Coluche to Pierre Desproges to Les Nuls move beyond their assigned funny boxes and hold power accountable TO THEIR FACES WITH EVERYONE WATCHING, and that felt normal. I remember nudity everywhere, in museums, billboards, commercials for plumbing supplies and history textbooks, and that felt normal. I remember hearing how my father had left his native Tunisia at 18 to seek a more tolerant land with better opportunities and chose France, and that felt normal. I remember falling in love for the first time with a girl far older than me, a girl whose skin was different than mine, and that felt normal…
It was that normalité that was attacked, raped because she is beautiful and intelligent, shot because she was born that way and can’t, won’t do anything to change. So imperfect she is still, now and throughout history my France, unable to make sense of her own duality, pushing her towards the romantic ideals of Voltaire, Montesquieu and Wolinsky while simultaneously being yanked back to those decidedly less so of Celine, Petain and Le Pen. She, like most of us, is complex and contradictory but must at least be given credit for creating a way of life, that way of life which calls into question all that doesn’t seem normal, obstinately and since the 80s, the 1780s! Also baguettes, they must be given credit for baguettes.
Such systematic questioning flies in the face of those for whom truth is permanent and un- moveable, it is an affront to those who readily and happily fill the uncomfortable void of “I don’t know” with a God and it is their incessant nature that makes them insupportable to extremists whose normalcy is not complex but uniform, homogeneous and dictated. Change is the nature of things and people, some of us quicker to sign up and others slower perhaps but we all do, eventually, change. And then we die. Growing up in Paris taught me and billions of others boys and girls that very lesson early on and I mourn the lost lives there and in Beirut this week, as well as those to unavoidably hit our news tickers from now to apparent eternity, especially because they were taken in order to shock the “apostates” in their “capital of prostitution and obscenity” as described in the terrorist’s sad explanatory letter of responsibility, two occupations we not only allow but wear as badges of honor, proud and unwavering in the face of their futile attempts to destroy them. Denial and attacks on normalcy thankfully have little effect, it might react, sometimes with equal parts madness and revenge, but it absorbs the shocks, it’s what normal does, it is its nature. And so it is mine.
Ideas cannot be stopped with bullets, a concept that we should all understand one day so that we may stop killing each other for the wrong reasons.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…