A priest had been murdered. The killers shouted Allahu Akbar before cutting the old man’s throat as he knelt by his altar.
“The motive for the attack,” intoned the newsreader with apparent sincerity “is not yet known.”
Étienne rubbed the tip of his nose with the palm of his hand, a characteristic gesture when he was perplexed. Was a refusal to name truth when it danced naked in front of your eyes the sign of an irredeemably decayed society he wondered. Restlessly he walked to the window and looked out at the Gurdwara and Polish owned shop across the road. They were fixed points in his ever changing neighbourhood and he rather liked them. The Sikhs gave out free hot meals to those who were hungry and Étienne was glad that they were there just in case he might one day be in need himself.
This refusal to say on Day One what even a particularly dull six year old knew had to be admitted by Day Three or Four did not spare Muslims from one jot or tittle of suspicion or fear. What it did was add to it a belief that the powers-that-be conspired against the public to cover up crimes committed by minorities, a belief which was ultimately as harmful to Sikhs, Poles and others like them as it was to Muslims. It was a wholly futile exercise.
Besides, he remembered the day when planes had fallen out of American skies killing thousands, and other days when Australian tourists, British commuters, French journalists and Parisian Jews had died by bomb or bullet. Had these events led to rioting mobs committing pogroms and exacting a vicious ‘revenge’ from innocent Muslims for the crimes of their guilty brothers? No of course not, but the authorities continued to give the impression, rightly or wrongly, that they were more concerned to prevent hypothetical backlashes than actual murders.
Murder. Étienne’s mind circled back to the image of the old priest kneeling in peaceful adoration before his God as his throat was slashed open by men invoking their deity. He knew that the shock and horror he felt would be echoed in Temple and Mosque, Synagogue and Church, winebar and lecture room. The revulsion would be at least as widespread as it had been for all the other atrocities and still they kept happening. Was Western society so denuded of intelligence that it could not find a way both to defeat this horrible conspiracy of wickedness and cherish the heterogeneous societies that the modern world inevitably created? Did ineffectual efforts to pretend that ‘the motive is not yet known‘ in incident after incident really represent the peak intellectual response of a tired civilization devoid of the energy to even name a truth yet alone by opposing so end it?
Rubbing his nose more vigorously than ever it occurred to him that he was mirroring his societies failures within himself. Asking questions which never got answered, half-glimpsing truths but declining to think them through. More was required if the needs of the times were to be addressed. But what did this ‘more’ consist of? Either someone somewhere already knew the answers or else Étienne would have to work them out for himself. Perhaps there were none and simply drifting along until the wyrd of the epoch had worked itself out was all that could be done.
No, his human urge for teleology was too great. There just had to be a comprehensible direction of travel. And what could be understood in human affairs could be changed. Étienne came to a decision. He would understand and then he would speak. No doubt he would be ignored but his mission, it seemed to him now, was simply to warn. If the wicked world refused to turn from its wickedness and be saved then the fault lay with the warned not the warner.
Where to begin? ‘The motive for the attack is not yet known.’ The palpable nonsense which had set of this train of thought echoed once more through his head. The newsreader’s air of conviction when delivering this absurdity could not have sprung from a belief in its truth. Perhaps she sincerely believed in the Noble Lie which underlay it. Étienne knew that it must be such a lie but what its full purpose was he could only partly guess. That, he decided, was where to begin. He would meet the newsreader, Marianne Lafranc, and ask her to tell him what it was she thought.
To be continued….
My other blog is Catholic Scot
The picture is of Father Jacques Hamel painted by Moubine a believing Muslim.