Following the attacks on Paris recently, which took place on the evening of November 13, 2015, and in which some 135 people have died, much deep soul searching is needed so as to know how to best respond. This was a series of coordinated terrorist attacks — including mass shootings, suicide bombings, and hostage-taking— in both Paris and Saint-Denis. I have been to Saint Denys Cathedral and prayed there, as it is the burial place of the ancient Kings of France. Beginning at 21:20 there were three separate suicide bombings outside the Stade de France and, nearer central Paris, there were mass shootings and a suicide bombing at four different locations. The deadliest attack took place at the Bataclan theatre, during a rock music concert being enjoyed by young people, where attackers took hostages and engaged in a stand-off with police which only ended finally at 00:58 on 14 November. People only survived because they “played dead” hiding in amongst dead and bleeding bodies. People will have been traumatised for life after these events. The Kharijites of Iraq and the Levant (KIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks – this is a more accurate name than calling them the Islamic State, which they are not. They are anti Islamic, as says the King of Jordan and all responsible Islamic leaders of stature. In total so far, 129 victims were killed, 89 of them at the Bataclan theatre. A further 415 have been admitted to hospital with injuries sustained in the attacks, including about 99 people seriously injured. Seven attackers also died, and the authorities are now searching for others who were involved int eh attacks. The suspected mastermind is someone called Abdel-Hamid Abu Oud, who is aged 27, lived in the suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, which was also home to other members of the militant Islamist cell that carried out Friday’s massacre, but is now thought to have escaped to Syria and rejoined his KIL associates.
The attacks were the deadliest in France since the Second World War, and the deadliest in Europe since the Madrid train bombings in 2004. This is one of the those wake up moments for all of us who live in Europe, and who have any affection for France as a culture, and indeed for European culture in general, for France and Europe are interconnected realities. I want to speak about my own memories of Paris first, and say why I am so annoyed at this assault. I grew up in Brighton, after being born in Montreal (the 2nd largest French speaking city int he world) and every Easter from Brighton my parents sent me to Paris to live with a French speaking family, the Prugnes, in a suburb called Orsay. I loved Paris and grew to be virtually bilingual as a result. I used to catch the train into Paris and wander around the streets, aged about 11-14, and absorbed all he wonders and sights and smells. It was where, I think, I decided to become a poet when I grew up. In Paris, poetry is the language of the common man, not a rarefied activity conducted by a mysterious elite. It is as necessary for survival as air or sunlight. I used to compose poetry in both French and English, and listed to Schubert’s Trout quintet on an old gramophone. One Easter I went with the Prugne family and stayed in their great grandfather’s house in deepest rural Auvergne, which had hardly been changed since the days of World War One. There were old sepia photos of grandfather setting off to war with his very long rifle. He never came back. Oxen used to pull the ploughs in the neighbouring farms. There were bluebottles on the windowsills, and a musty odour everywhere. I remember first hearing the Beatles Let It Be on a gramophone in this marvellous farmhouse. It was the late 1960’s. I also remember lying at night on the nearby bank and watching the stars, the first time I had seen real stars like that, so numerous it was like we were swimming in a sea of brilliant bubbles of light. They just went on and on. We tried to count them, again and again, and got to some ridiculously large number then burst into laughter. The game was to be the last one to start laughing. So France and Paris are deep in my blood, in my soul. I doubt I would have become a poet without France. Nor would I have become a philosopher. It was reading Camus and Sartre (along with Descartes, Spinoza, Nietzsche and Plato) that made me decided that as well as being a poet, I wanted to be a philosopher.
Years later, I was elected coordinator of International Philosophers for Peace, and still hold that responsibility in Europe, at a meeting in Moscow, in 1990. I recently authored a declaration on behalf of this group, IPPNO, at a meeting in Hyderabad. When I was in India at the Grand Global peace meet back in January, we watched dumbfounded on an Indian television screen as the Charlie Hebdo massacre took place and then thousands of Parisians lined the street to protest and pledge solidarity. It was a moving moment. A wise man once said that every human being has two citizenships on earth, their own country and that of France. Since then I have attended countless peace meetings throughout eh world, and spoken and lectured and written for some 30 years on the need for peace instead of war. I have spoken at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, at interfaith events there, in the grand Mosque, int eh main Synagogue and at Christian churches. I have spent hours studying in the Bibliotheque Nationale and also in the Sorbonne.
Here at the castle we have a full French flag displayed in the Great Hall, which was given to my mother, Eileen Daffern, when she became an honourary French citizen of Dieppe, in honour of her many years work as a French language teacher in Brighton schools, taking parties of schoolchildren across the channel, year after year. (One of her former students is now the only green Lord in the UK House of Lords, Baroness Jenny Jones, who is also active on peace issues). Every Summer we used to go as a family on holiday to the South of France: Collioure, Juan les Pins, Le Brusc… France is such a beautiful country, and the people are so romantic and eccentrically wonderful – why would anybody want to harm them ? Years later I visited Fontrevault Abbey, where the remains of Isabel of Angouleme, wife of King John, Eleanor of Aquitaine, King Richard the Lionheart and most of the other Plantagenet monarchs are buried (King John himself is in Worcester Cathedral). I have also prayed at the tomb of William 1st in Caen. I should add that my father’s family, Dafferns, were of Norman origins, the name being originally De La Fern.
Well, here I think much deep analysis and soul searching needs to be done in my opinion and a whole lot of foolish foreign policy decisions need to be reviewed, going right back to the US-UK invasion of Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11. I don’t think the people have been told the truth about who or what was really behind 9/11, and the questions I sent in confidentially to the Chilcot commission, for them to ask Blair and the intelligence services, might have been helpful. We need to see the Chilcot Commission report published asap and if necessary statutory laws should be passed in Parliament to override the lax way it has been allowed to carry on with no deadline in site. Even now there is no legal obligation on Chilcot to publish anytime ever. If it does turn out that Saudi Arabian intelligence had prior knowledge of 9/11 and shared this with people in the Bush cabal, and they let 9/11 happen anyway, and programmed the buildings to fall to make the punch bigger, then this needs to come out. (If it turns out China, Mossad or aliens were behind 9/11 then that needs to come out instead ! I suspend judgment, but think on balance the evidence points to Saudi prior knowledge and Bush cabal internal support for a false flag, as argued by many leading experts. (If you still think it was 19 Saudi free lance jihadis working for Al Quaeda and Bin Laden on their own without state help then watch this documentary now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QU961SGps8g). Essentially, Western foreign policy has been hijacked by Saudi Arabia ever since the invasion of Afghanistan when the USA and UK decided to do a Faustian bargain with jihadist Wahhabis like Bin Laden to help “bring down the Soviet Union”. (Read House of Bush and House of Saud by Craig Unger, 2004 for background to all this). They didn’t realise (not being thinking people) that in making such a bargain they were also going to be bringing down European and Western civilisation itself, and have it replaced by the very same Jihadi ideology that the West originally supported, armed, funded and promoted. So yes, Al Quaeda, and all militant Wahhabi Jihaddis, most recently ISIS, were all a deliberate creation of Western intelligence going back to 1979. But the genie got out of the bottle.. And the Russians, quite rightly, know what we (and they) are now actually up against when it comes to opposing radical Wahhabi ideology. This is an ideology that beheads people if they think differently, that bottles up and abuses women, that prefers Thanatos to Libido, that opposes “atheism” (i.e. free thinking, skepticism, scientific thought – there is no philosophy taught inside Saudi Arabia) and would like to see the European enlightenment replaced by a pre-scientific theocracy which stones women to death for falling in love outside of forced marriage. This is opposed to the European and Western notion of women’s rights that it’s a joke. Therefore, Britain, Europe and our allies must immediately rethink the ideological foundations and the ethical foundations of our foreign policy. But do people have the intellectual courage, or indeed moral intelligence, to rethink these issues properly ? Do people have the educational and philosophical background to do it ? Not the petty bureaucrats who run the Foreign Offices of the West, I fear, not the chap in charge of Syrian foreign policy for the UK I spoke to 3 years ago and offered to help sort out an interfaith peace mediation over Syria and who said to me “we can’t do that, it would upset the radical opposition to Assad, we are committed to regime change here”..Why does the UK and the USA think it had the moral or legal right to interfere in the affairs of a sovereign country, Syria, and to arm rebel jihadist groups to take down its legitimate government, which operated a very sensible ecumenical policy giving rights to all religious minorities etc. ? Do they still think they are fighting the USSR in Afghanistan, still hiding behind cold war mentality, still playing their stupid “great game” ? The question to ask is whether this was simply doing the bidding of Saudi foreign policy and intelligence elites ? There needs to be a total review of the penetration of the UK Foreign office by Saudi and other foreign intelligence operatives (USA and Mossad and whoever else – they should all be exposed – we need a genuine UK foreign policy) and an inquiry into which officials have been blackmailed by whom over how long throughout Whitehall, to keep silent about the blind stupidity of UK Foreign policy choices. This must change. We need to invest in the proper moral education of all diplomats and foreign office officials in not just the UK but also France, the USA, the Islamic world etc. IIPSGP is very happy to run courses in the Ethics of Foreign Policy and why the world needs to think through an intelligent peace policy, and why Islam, Christianity and Judaism themselves all need to reclaim their own authentic peace missions and realise they should be working together and not against each other in an era of nuclear weapons. The killings in Paris and also in Lebanon recently, where extremist Wahhabist operatives attacked moderate Shiia ecumenicists, are a wakeup call to us all. I think my Commentaries underway on the Book of Enoch may help long term to sketch a way to a genuine theology and philosophy of peace.
I remain shocked at the continuing ignorance of those who are supposed to be sorting out our troubled world and helping bring peace.. But I am also deeply troubled at my Muslim brothers and sisters who have been seduced into thinking that this Kharijite movement in Iraq and Syria is in any way going ahead with God’s blessings. It is a schismatic and deeply troubling movement, born of desperation and despair, anger and pain. Of course the allied invasion of Iraq was illegal, and its perpetrators should be tried. Of course there should be an independent state of Palestine living in peace with Israel. Of course there are many wrongs that need righting in the Middle East. But the way to achieve all these goals is not through violence, but through peace and nonviolence. Muslims who are in doubt about this, should listen in full to my commentary on the Holy Quran, which is available here: https://musespress.wordpress.com/audio-lectures/
Another strategy for getting a genuine peace settlement in the Middle East, and globally, is the idea of the Interfaith Peace treaty, which I authored earlier this year following visits to both Turkey and India. How do wars end ? Wars end, so I figured, with a peace treaty. As a historian, who trained at the University of London, I studied endlessly the diplomatic history of the modern world, from 1500 to now, and studied the endless diplomatic complexities of the 18th and 19th centuries, and the 20th century. Wars are horrible and messy and traumatic things. But they always end with some kind of peace treaty. Now, in our 21st century inter-religious conflicts, how can these wars ever end ? The Interfaith Peace Treaty is specifically designed to provide an instrument whereby people of all faiths can make a declaration, honestly and honourably, calling for another way than violence and war to govern their relations. Instead of supporting terrorist groups, or militarist groups, we should choose peace and nonviolence, as the far more intelligent option for us to pursue as a planet. The text is open for signature and can be found here: https://interfaithpeacetreaty.wordpress.com/
In today’s otherwise excellent and well calibrated Mansion House speech, David Cameron made a couple of intellectual errors – when turning to the ideological part of the struggle against ISIL, he said “there are those who blame the attacks in Paris on the intervention of the West in Iraq in 2003, but they forget that 9/11 happened first”. This betrays that Mr Cameron hasn’t done his homework. He obviously is not familiar with the genuine doubts about the official narrative concerning 9/11 raised by many eminent and highly trained architects, engineers, philosophers, and scientists (see http://www.ae911truth.org/ )
But not only is this intellectually shallow, as he has not done his homework, but also it is to perpetuate further the false idea that the invasion of Iraq was somehow justified by the attacks of 9/11. Exactly who is he addressing here ? Of course it wasn’t justified, as there was absolutely no connection between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the ideology behind Al Quaeda. They were opponents. Saddam, for all his flaws (which were many) was a moderate by Islamic standards, permitted full interfaith liberties inside Iraq, tolerated Sunni, Shiia, Christian, Bahai, secularists and socialist and other groups to mix and mingle. Baghdad was a haven of cosmopolitan culture in Saddam’s time as were the other Iraqi cities. Many Iraqis were Anglophiles and Iraqi poets celebrated T S Eliot and English literature, which was taught at the University of Baghdad. They remembered fondly the visits of Agatha Christie to the archaeological digs in Iraq back before World War Two. Iraq was an infinitely more sophisticated intellectual culture under Saddam, for all its flaws, than the Wahhabi intolerance promulgated by Saudi Arabia, where freedom of thought is and was virtually non-existent. And yet Mr Cameron is still publicly peddling the lie that the Wrest invaded Iraq as a good thing “because of 9/11!. This is a schoolboy howler, and if he were my pupil at Eton, I would fail him on this point, and mark the whole speech as C minus because of it. Sorry. He simply doesn’t get the fact that for millions on the Arab street, this issue of 2003 remains a blazing fire of injustice and a major recruiting aspect for KII, which consists partly of former Saddam operatives. Until the Chilcot Commission is published and until there is a serious legitimate and powerful commission of Inquiry into 9/11 the Arab street, whether in Baghdad or Birmingham, and to some extent the European and British street, will still remain at slow burn. This is one of the reasons we were up the TRCME. Of course there is no justification for the attacks in Paris, and the invasion of 2003 is no moral excuse for them, but there is a direct causal connection between the willful suppression of authentici debate in Britain and Western societies, including France, about why we went to war in 2003, why we killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and why we turned Iraq into an ungovernable maelstrom, and the rise of KIL stepping into the morass. This situation will never be cured and healed until we get truth and a genuine understanding of the stupidity of what we did. Thais is why Chilcot is so important, but beyond it, I would call for a Chilcot mark two, in which persons are called to give evidence under oath. I will be happy to chair it.
I set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the Middle East (TRCME) back in 2008 and still chair this organisation, as a project of IIPSGP. We have a separate website for this work, at https://trcme.wordpress.com . I would appeal to all those honourable, truthful and justice loving peace seekers throughout the Middle East, or who live abroad, and who want to help the region find its feet again, to enter in to dialogue through the aegis of the TRCME, in whatsoever medium and let us together find a way out of the madness of violence and counter violence that has now spilled out on to the streets of Paris. The TRCME needs coordinators in each Middle Eastern country. Please email me directly to receive the information pack. Let us together end this violence and find another way to tackle our political and religious differences. Let us, if possible, rediscover the human capacity to reason together and to wonder. That would be the greatest tribute we could pay to our fallen friends in Paris, city of Abelard and the rebirth of modern philosophy, home of the first University in modern European society, home of Sartre and Les philosophes of the enlightenment. To paraphrase Voltaire, i may not have agreed with all the ideas of Les Philosophes, but I will defend to the death their right to think and wonder.