by Jonathan Tame, 16th November 2015
Over the weekend, many national landmarks were lit up in the red, white and blue of France’s national colours, and scores of major corporate websites still depict the French flag, the Eiffel Tower or other symbols of Paris on their home page. All these seek to express solidarity with the city that’s still reeling from the atrocities on Friday evening.
Solidarité is seen as a particularly French concept, ever since it was adopted as part of the rallying cry of the French Revolution. There it came to mean standing alongside a brother in the common (revolutionary) cause. Yet solidarity has far deeper roots in medieval Europe, where it included a duty to protect and help others, from both a political and a religious point of view. The theology of solidarity goes right back to creation and redemption, in that every human being is made in God’s image, and the sins of each and every one of us were paid for by Christ on the cross (and that includes the Paris attackers, as well as their victims).
However, this should not lead to naivety regarding evil. The kind of solidarity that is needed now must be tempered by wisdom and strategic understanding. According to Jean-Pierre Filou, academic and former French diplomat in Syria, the attacks had two goals. Firstly to generate sectarian strife in France, by pitting the Muslim community against the rest of the population and triggering a cycle of racist violence – which would play into the hands of jihadist recruiters. Secondly, ISIS wants France to overreact militarily in Syria, and launch a ground offensive to go after the killers and their masterminds. This too would strengthen the ISIS position in Syria and draw many young men to join their apocalyptic cause.
If this is what ISIS is trying to do, then our initial solidarity with our French neighbours should shift to a ‘pre-emptive’ kind of solidarity with members of the Muslim community around us, especially asylum seekers and refugees. The fact that two of the Paris attackers may have crossed into Europe as refugees has brought dismay to the 99% of migrants who have come to Europe’s shores seeking refuge, stability, peace and hope for their children.
So now is the time to build relationships, extend friendships and dare to trust our Muslim neighbours. Let us resist the narrative of fear and suspicion, and act in the opposite spirit to those who would drive a wedge between races and religions. In this France is especially at risk, where the far right is sufficiently influential and could stir up just the sort of sectarian strife that ISIS wants; perhaps that’s why the attackers chose Paris not London.
If all this seems too daunting, then let’s draw strength and inspiration from the most courageous act of solidarity in history, when God took on human flesh, shared in our broken humanity, and by his death and resurrection turned us from his enemies to his dearly beloved children.