“Qu’un sang impur, abreuve nos sillons!” (Let an impure blood, water our fields). The final line of “La Marseillaise,” France’s famed national anthem has always been a rather curious one, perhaps even xenophobic. Yet in the wake of another horrific tragedy on French soil (the third in 18 months) perhaps those revolutionary words can very well be seen as a comfort for wounded French hearts. Indeed since January 2015, France has been on many people’s minds but not necessarily because of its immense cultural and historical beauty, but because of the appalling acts of terrorism that have shocked the nation and Europe.
While terrorism is a component of humanity that has unfortunately existed since time immemorial, since 9/11, society’s awareness and fear of it has expanded exponentially. In the context of Islamic terrorism Canada, Europe, and really the majority of the Middle East have not escaped its horror; whether extremists call themselves ISIS, Al-Qaeda, or Boko Haram is irrelevant for the fact is that they have sabotaged a faith and have demented it with a perverted view of the world. And it is precisely beacons of light, prosperity and progress that nations like France represent that have attracted the attention of these glory seekers. Can you believe that France has the “audacity” to exemplify the very best of the human spirit?
It was last July that I had the pleasure of touring France, including Paris and the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera), and to say that it left an impression on me would be an understatement. The charm and romanticism that is French life cannot be totally explained unless one experiences it personally; and so how saddening it is to know that a place of such beauty could be deliberately targeted with malice. The Promenade Des Anglais in Nice, the site of the latest carnage, is one of those sites of great beauty. But it’s not just the Mediterranean Sea and coastal breeze that makes it beautiful; it’s the people, their language, their customs and their goodwill that coupled with the scenic view make it a paradise. As I reminisce about my time on that Promenade just one year ago, I think about how unfortunate those who were killed truly are. Were they really any different from me? After all we were both doing the same thing: enjoying the allure of France. Whatever the perpetrator’s motivations and influences, it brings to light another scar on the face of one of Europe’s leading countries.
Terrorism is an attempt to frighten us and make us cower. It does indeed frighten us, but it cannot make us afraid to express fully our beliefs, values and our culture. From Turkey to Belgium, these terror attacks (whether they are Islamic or not) are always about one thing: attempting to quash the goodness we build for ourselves. For France it has been particularly difficult; from Charlie Hebdo to the Bataclan Theatre and now ruefully in Nice, fanaticism has chosen to target France precisely because it is not afraid to express its beliefs, values and culture. This latest attack on the French national holiday, Bastille Day, was no coincidence; a day to celebrate and affirm its principles is the greatest act of defiance the free world can have against its enemies. Alas the spirit of France can never be quashed as must also the spirit of all those targeted by acts of evil.
“La Marseillaise” calls the people to action “Aux armes, citoyens, formez vos bataillons/Marchons, marchons!” (To arms citizens, form your battalions, let’s march!) and it is a call we should heed. As the healing process begins again, we are reminded through our mourning that we must never be afraid to proudly proclaim who we are and what we hold dear, whether we are Frenchmen or Canadian. France cannot be broken and we cannot be broken, for in challenging terrorism head on we proclaim LIBERTÉ, ÉGALITÉ, FRATERNITÉ for all.