Friday’s theocratic slaughter in Paris has achieved nothing for humanity. It is one step back to an age we thought darker but which, given the range of modern murderous technology, might not have been. Our ability to kill has increased while our desire and willingness to do so has not diminished in the slightest.
The multiple attacks on Friday marked the second time this year that the phenomenon, once termed clerical fascism by the SWP’s late Tony Cliff, visited its gospel of hate on the people of Paris. Little did Parisians and visitors to the city know what lay in wait once the acridity of cordite had dispersed in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January past.
Since Friday’s attack some apologists for state terrorism have taken to making comparisons that more reflect their prejudices than their humanity. Ruth Dudley Edwards who seemed very unconcerned when Palestinian children were last year being massacred in Gaza in numbers far in excess of what was witnessed in Paris, has been to the fore in likening ISIS to the Provisional IRA. The murdered Parisians, like the slaughtered of Omagh, are fortunate only insofar as Israel was not behind their respective fates. In her skewed moral universe RDE would then have argued that it is quite okay: they were only fighting terrorism rather than practicing it: it's alright to turn a blind eye to it and that sort of thing. Her position in respect of the victims of state terrorism is let them eat cake. The association of that particular phrase with France has its own irony.
The Provisional IRA perpetrated many horrific acts. To excuse the organisation or downgrade its role would be to play silly buggers with the victims much as RDE has done. The people of Birmingham, for example might feel that they can identify with the victims of Paris, given the fate that befell them at the hands of the IRA in November 1974. We can hardly deny their claim.
It was not Birmingham, however, that my republican eye initially focussed on when I arose on Saturday morning as the extent of the attacks from the night before was becoming clearer. I could as easily have thought of Dublin-Monaghan but that is not what came to mind either. Ethnocentricity, emotiveness and shared history shape our experience and form our bonds, not to mention preferences. So for that reason I thought of Derry and the massacre visited there in January 1972. The victims of terrorism on that occasion were every bit as innocent as Parisian revellers. Ordinary civilians going about legitimate business when they were cold bloodedly observed through rifle sights and selected for murder before being gunned down by British state terrorists from the Parachute Regiment. Much like happened in Paris.
The same thugs had massacred a population in Belfast’s Ballymurphy only months earlier but as that was not caught on camera the impact, internationally, was not as severe. Had the cover up in Ballymurphy not been allowed to take place the citizens of Derry might have been spared. Before the Para terrorists were sent into Derry it was fully known what they were capable of: mass murder. The killers also had firm reason to believe, given the massacre they had inflicted in Ballymurphy and walked away from with impunity, that they would not be held to account.
By all means the people of Birmingham have every right as a city to stand in solidarity with Paris if they so choose. But no less so have the people of Derry. The population of Paris excluding the surrounding suburbs stands at about 2.5 million. Given the diminutive demographic status of 1972 Derry, the impact of the worst act of terror to have visited the city during the post 1960s Northern conflict was arguably as great as that inflicted on the Parisians.
If on Friday evening, exactly one week after the Paris attacks, the citizens of Derry wherever they might happen to be, were to observe a one minute silence in memory of the victims in Paris, it would be a clear message of solidarity from one butchered city to another that terrorism from wherever it emanates, state or non-state actors, has no place in a world where a premium should be on preserving human life rather than ending it.
If there is any real difference between the killers of Paris and those of Derry, it is in favour of Islamic State. The monsters of Paris acknowledged their dirty deed. The monsters of Derry on the other hand lied about theirs, covered it up and blamed the victims. They even brought a senior judge in to exonerate them of their crime.
A difference which does absolutely nothing to excuse Islamic State nor invalidate the simple logic that if there is no hierarchy of victims there can be no aristocracy of killers.