I am writing of Paris. Paris, where the Eiffel tower reflects in the passing waters of the Seine every night, before sparkling up in a thousand shimmering lights for a minute at every toll of the hour. Of Paris, where some of the Metro stations smell of urine and are dank and dark; of light and shadow, of homeless people sitting on the pavement begging for just a centime to buy a loaf of bread. A place of playful summers sitting in the grass of the Luxembourg gardens waiting for my next class, and of winters spent shivering in a room far too cold to be in but my landlord is a frugal man. I write to you of a place I used to call home.
I write to you of a place that knew terror last Friday the thirteenth. I cannot describe the feeling of watching the events unfold on the news. Seeing the map on CNN light up and recognise that I was near Les Halles the Friday before, and then just as quickly remember that a friend lives near one of the red dots on the map and send an enquiring SMS. Then wait. Wait as the body count rises, as the police confirm that this is the worst terrorist attack the country has known in decades. Wait as the country goes into only its second state of emergency since the end of World War II. Wait and see messages coming in from across the world asking if I am okay. For a moment I thought of calling home but, knowing my parents, they would be fast asleep by now. I decided not to worry them, which is why they called at 5am the next day, worried out of their minds.
Who is to blame?
I am too young for this, a voice quietly says. Reassuring people that yes I am still alive is no longer new after I lived in Algeria for four years, but there is something disturbing in it. Something disturbing in seeing death and terror rear their ugliness in the things you call familiar, the things you call home, around the people you call your friends, the country that has taken you in during your nomadic wanderings across the globe.
And as the drama unfolds as the dust quietly settles, you watch silently as the accusations fly forth: it is the fault of the immigrants, it is the fault of the Muslims, the fault of Islam, no it is no one’s fault, it is the fault of the West, the fault of the French, the fault of the Left. This is a moment of grief, but whose grief is it? Who has the right to grieve over the dead French, as other dead pile up in Syria, in Beirut, in Palestine? Slowly my timeline is engulfed in the game of political correctness as the right to grieve, to shock, to numbness are assigned, debated and assessed.
A divided world
Part of me wants to join in the debate, defend one side from the other and call out some of the shallow arguments for what they are. But a part of me is numb. A part of me remembers Arundhati Roy’s words: ‘it isn’t necessary to be “anti-national” to be deeply suspicious of all nationalism, to be anti-nationalism.’ This game of us against them, the politics of the black and the white with no grey areas in between, is exactly the politics that led the United States of America into one of the most foolish wars of the twenty first century.
It is exactly the type of game that terrorists want the world to be playing. According to Dabiq (Issue 7), the English language magazine of the Islamic State, their war is against the moderate Muslim, those in the grey zone, and the people who would see coexistence of people of all faiths. Their aim is to ultimately such people with only two choices: “either become complete apostates, or else emigrate to the Caliphate.” And as the shooting of seven people in Paris in January shows, the world is clearly more polarized; where the killing of more than 200 people in London and Madrid in previous years hardly brought the world to a standstill; ‘Je Suis Charlie’ did.
Nobody is safe
For me the debate comes too soon, is too simplified, too loud and too opinionated. The only truth that remains is that the streets of the world have become a less safe place to be. That terror is now a commodity that has been exported once again to my doorstep. That whilst we argue amongst ourselves; they whose mission it is to spread terror, will leave us nothing but rubble to fight over. I am too numb to point fingers, to study the chasm between North and South, East and West, Islam and Christendom.
All I can do is pray. For Paris and the world.
Bongani Ncube-Zikhali is a student at the University of Paris VI (UPMC Sorbonne) where he studies the French, Computer Science and their wine. He has lived in Johannesburg, Geneva, Lyon, Paris and Tlemcen, but Bulawayo remains his home.
His ramblings can be found on his blog http://echoes-online.blogspot.fr/ or on twitter @zikhali110