This piece was submitted by Paul MacGrady, a 22-year-old postgraduate student in History in Sciences Po Paris and Bella reader who has studied in Scotland. He lives in the XIth arrondissement of Paris. This is his account.
The 13th of November, from one side of the rifle to the other, from the finger on the trigger to the bullet in the heart, it was our youth. It is true that everything seems to oppose the loud and joyful discussions of the Carillon, the clinking glasses of the Belle Equipe, the bars’ tables where we speak of the world, where every book is read, where languages melt and where lips caresses each other; indeed everything seems to oppose this old Paris’ youth to the cold eyes and the bodies frozen by the delirium of death and nothingness that numbed its murderers. And yet, as we now know, and as every studies shows, those who fired and those who may fire again have grown together in the same schools, the same playgrounds, with the same bedside tables without a Bible, the same rooms without a prayer mat, the same tolerant or atheist families, the same TV programmes, the same video games, the same football teams as those of their victims; those who fired and those who may fire again just as well dreamt of voyages and of great things, just as they too received this twisted world and thought that they could turn it right, just as they have tried to love. It is undoubtedly necessary to hate them. How could it be otherwise when we have been killed? But with no doubt we also hate them because they are a part of ourselves, a possibility that we violently dismiss. And the killer, when he shot, recognized himself in his victim’s eye. He saw what he could have become, this meagre student who drinks a three euros pints in East Paris’ bars, this young worker who indulges in a few concerts per year, this young girl who tells her heartaches at weekend. In all this he saw himself, and he killed.
From one side of the rifle to the other, it was our youth. All the serious studies show it. Middle class. Progressive families. Allah I don’t believe. From the XIth arrondissement to jihad there is but a fair distress and a few clicks. For them Syria was the call of wilderness, the first trip, the first solitary departure, without school buses, without classmates, but with other pals in the end of the road, others, who would know how to love on a pile of ruins. For them Syria was what for us is often a certificate of globetrotting. Nonetheless, they didn’t carry on their round the world trip. They came back, and they killed. They shot down those who dream, just like them, of voyages and banging boats, those who have struggled hard, just like them, and struggle still. Casual work. Anxiety with studies. The fear of a useless diploma. Not knowing how to sell yourself. Refusing to do so. Trying to stay. Having to leave. Friday night’s glass is the only moment of rest for these youthful existences battered by the waves of competition and by the fear of the future. By striking our terraces and our concert halls, it is not a civilized art of living that they targeted; it is the only thing that makes us hold on to that which they thought to destroy, the only thing that enables us to forget the savage world where we have to fit into – without anyone being in the mood to let us do so. This is this very jungle that they couldn’t bear, and one they swapped for a desert. Back in the days they might have chosen Greece with Byron or Spain with Hemingway. There remained but adventure without ideal and combat without justice. They went their way, the wrong one, but which has already been dreamt, as a fantasy or as a nightmare, by any of those for whom life, food, degree and work are already a daily fight. Jihad is the only outlet, starting with a flourish and ending in a crime, which our world has delivered to fierce and intense spirits.
Our youth. From one side to another. The studying cashiers and the outcasts. The precarious and the mercenaries. The party-animals to keep going and the nutters to put an end. Those on the minimum wage and the basket cases; but basket cases who didn’t want to be on the minimum wage.
What will you give to this youth made of executioners and victims who became infatuated with a world that wounds them. Is it the Republic of values and of righters of wrongs? Alas, the Republic is dying by dint of being worthy. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity are not values. They are not worthy and cannot be exchanged for anything. They cannot actualise an order for there are still high on the agenda. They only constitute what is still to be constituted. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. No values, but a programme. What temerity to think that we have transformed a motto into a gain! No, the Republic is not to be defended. It is, and will always be to enhance and achieve. The Republic, yes, but the social and ecological one. The youth has France to build, to construct, to plan, to push ahead. Give them the floor to share with their elders. Give them the future to their mercy and the Republic as their cause. Then, maybe, those who fired will release their weapons and share a glass with us; this glass which we should not drink anymore to forget the aching struggle to make ends meet, but which should celebrate the sense bloomed in the abolition of census. Then, perhaps, France will become again the place of journey and adventure, this place with no other values than those of spirits and hearts whose arms have been laid down on the threshold of the common house.