I imagine myself leaving Europe and returning to Canada.  From my Paris perspective, I view my homeland as a safe haven, a country of peace and tolerance.  Seen through the lens of the half-dozen terrorist attacks that have occurred on French soil in 2015 alone, and the threats we are receiving for future attacks, I do not view my adopted country in the same light at all. 

France has become a prime target for terrorists for a variety of reasons – (a) recent military intervention in Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, (b) not-so-recent historical colonialism and crimes in North Africa (Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco), West and Equatorial Africa that have left deep and lingering grudges, (c) the ghettoization, marginalization and/or stigmatization of a percentage of French Muslims, not all, who in total represent 10% of the country’s population, (d) high unemployment in France, especially among young Muslim youths who already feel excluded from society, (e) policies and cultural practices that are seen as anti-Muslim (those absurd and inflammatory Charlie Hebdo satirical cartoons, the burka-niqab ban, Marine Le Pen and her far-right, xenophobic National Front party and, yes, an undeniable, ingrained racism in the DNA of a majority of white, Catholic French citizens, a racism that I have personally witnessed.)

Vous récoltez ce que vous semez.  (You reap what you sow.)

There are other factors that add fuel to the fire, but the list is long – the Schengen Agreement – since the dismantling of European border controls in 1985, France is geographically vulnerable.  Antiterrorist organizations are woefully underfunded and overwhelmed.  Example – it was Morocco who alerted Paris to the fact that the ringleader of the Paris attacks, Abelhamid Abaaoud, was hiding in a Parisian suburb (Saint Denis), right under the noses of French intelligence agencies.

Criticism is mounting against French officials for not doing more to prevent last Friday’s multiple terrorist attacks

The general sentiment of Parisians today, aside from shock and grief, is one of anger.  “We thought we were protected,” is the general refrain. The tragic consequence of government laxism are the deaths of 131 innocents and over 300 wounded. 

In response to last Friday night’s killings (exactly one week ago last night), Manual Valls, French prime minister, announced that stricter anti-terror measures will be put into place.  Will be put into place?  We thought that after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, that had already been done.  Other major problems include – 

  • Salafist non-French imams who are allowed to come into France and preach hate-filled invective to their congregations.  Not in ALL mosques, but in enough clandestine fringe mosques to radicalize disenfranchized young Muslim men;
  • Under-surveillance in French prisons, hotbeds of  Islamist indoctrination amongst inmates;
  • Under-surveillance of departing and returning French jihadists to and from Syria;
  • The continued financing of mosques by Saudi-Wahhabis, purveyors of a medieval form of radical ideology and terror (not only mosques in France, but in the U.K., the U.S.A., Canada and elsewhere.)

What makes our countries unsafe?  Our own governments.

Blowback, backlash, vengeance, payback, retribution…call it what you want, the message is the same.  There’s an expression in French – de payer leurs erreurs (to pay for their errors.) The problem is, it’s not the politicians who pay, it’s us, the honest tax-paying, law-abiding citizens.  And that’s why I envisage myself living on a safe island somewhere in Canada – Prince Edward Island, say, or one of those sleepy islands off the coast of British Columbia.  Far, far away from the toxicity of lies and terrorist threats. 

I blame French politicians and a handful of other Western politicians for the mess we find ourselves in, and it’s really only a handful.  The Islamist terrorist forces of today are the direct results of Neoconservative Foreign Policy in the Middle East.  The “N” word is not discussed enough in mainstream media.  I know that I keep harping on about Neoconservative ideology, but it’s wholly relevant to our current situation.  In short, neocon warmongering threatens us, has threatened us already.

Here’s just one example among many – Sarkozy and Cameron in Libya in 2011.  What was that about?  The U.S., Britain and France, under the pretext of “rescuing the Libyan people”, “promoting freedom and democracy”, and “aiding the Arab Spring uprising” that had occurred in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, decided that it was time for a regime change.   Why oust Gaddafi?  Because he was guilty of insubordination to US imperialism and its allies.  (Funny, and only a few years earlier he had contributed 50 million euros to Sarkozy’s election campaign and, while visiting Paris, was allowed to pitch his Bedouin tent in the Elysée backyard.)  In return for their help in ending Gaddafi’s rule, Sarko and Cameron expected deals, lucrative deals from U.S.-approved Mahmoud Jibril, the interim prime minister.  Toppling Gaddafi destabilized the country, just like it had in Iraq 8 years earlier when those same Western allies toppled Saddam.  Today, Islamist militias terrorize Libya while hundreds of thousands of migrants, coming up from sub-Saharan Africa and all over, attempt to leave Tripoli for Europe.  In small boats.

“France, Great Britain, Europe, will always stand by the side of the Libyan people!” proclaimed Sarkozy in 2011.  Where are those Western leaders today, now that the Libyan people are succumbing to atrocities worse than they ever knew under Gaddafi (abductions, torture, beheadings by Islamic State militants)?   They’ve walked away.  Mission completed, Libya no longer interests them.  Or rather, they no longer have interests in Libya.

Sarkozy-Kadhafi2blair and gaddafi

We in the West can hold grudges too, and here’s mine – the genesis of ISIS can be traced back to May 2003 when errand boy Paul Bremer, under orders from George W. Bush’s government, disbanded the entire Sunni-dominated Iraqi army.  It was a move that put 250,000 young Iraqi men out of a job, out on the streets, angry, and armed—and guaranteed the violent chaos to come.

And if that wasn’t enough, senior members were then expelled from Saddam’s Ba’ath party.  This disastrous decision led many Sunni Iraqis to conclude that they had no hope of a prominent place in a future Iraq.  Why the meddling?  What right did Bush’s government have to even be in Iraq in the first place??  They had no right whatsoever.  They had illegally invaded Iraq.

Sunnis were the technocrats who populated the ministries and staffed the army — members of Iraq’s experienced middle class who would happily have supported new leadership, had they been offered a serious role. Instead, they felt banished, and by the end of 2003, an insurgency had taken hold.

Deep down, I can’t help thinking that all this was pre-planned.  I find it hard to believe that U.S. intelligence, along with American and British experts on Iraq, did not foresee the consequences of the above actions.

As for the members of this Neoconservative cabal, the vile and abhorrent “Dick and Don”, aka Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, along with Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, Richard Perle, Tony Blair and others, none of them have been held accountable for their crimes, not a single one.  Where are they today?  Playing golf in the sun.  Writing their memoirs.  Peddling their stories on the speaking circuit.  Raking in millions of dollars a year.  It’s almost as if they’ve been rewarded for their sins.  Where’s the justice in that?

a minute of silence

At precisely twelve noon, a silence descended upon the entire country as we honoured those killed by the depraved terrorists.  Buses and subway trains stopped, cars stopped, pedestrians stopped, machines stopped.  In the office where I work, we stood motionless in a group.

Léo Ferré

Who wants to cry?

I was washing the dishes this evening while listening to the radio, when this song came on.  Avec le temps, written and sung by Léo Ferré.  It’s a French classic, but I hadn’t heard it in ages.  Putting down my dish mop, I turned up the volume then stood, transfixed, at the kitchen sink and listened intently.  Halfway through, I was weeping like a baby.  I honestly can’t think of a sadder song.

Sometimes it’s good to cry.  To just let go.

UPDATE – While I was writing this post, scores of innocent people were being gunned down on the other side of Paris.  I had no idea until I turned on the TV (the loud and incessant sirens from police cars outside alerted me to the fact that something was amiss.)  My tears, previously shed for Léo Ferré’s song, now fall for the victims and their families.  Once again, the French capital is in the sights of terrorists.  A state of emergency has been declared in France and the borders are closed.  We’re under siege.

Here are the lyrics with English translation below.  And the clip of Léo Ferré singing this sad song is at the bottom.

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
On oublie le visage et l’on oublie la voix
Le cœur, quand ça bat plus, c’est pas la peine d’aller
Chercher plus loin, faut laisser faire et c’est très bien

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
L’autre qu’on adorait, qu’on cherchait sous la pluie
L’autre qu’on devinait au détour d’un regard
Entre les mots, entre les lignes et sous le fard
D’un serment maquillé qui s’en va faire sa nuit
Avec le temps tout s’évanouit.

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
Même les plus chouettes souvenirs ça t’as une de ces gueules
À la galerie j’ farfouille dans les rayons d’ la mort
Le samedi soir quand la tendresse s’en va toute seule.

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
L’autre à qui l’on croyait pour un rhume, pour un rien
L’autre à qui l’on donnait du vent et des bijoux
Pour qui l’on eût vendu son âme pour quelques sous
Devant quoi l’on s’traînait comme traînent les chiens
Avec le temps, va, tout va bien.

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
On oublie les passions et l’on oublie les voix
Qui vous disaient tout bas les mots des pauvres gens
“Ne rentre pas trop tard, surtout ne prends pas froid….”

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
Et l’on se sent blanchi comme un cheval fourbu
Et l’on se sent glacé dans un lit de hasard
Et l’on se sent tout seul peut-être mais peinard
Et l’on se sent floué par les années perdues
Alors vraiment… avec le temps… on n’aime plus.

With time …
With time, everything goes
We forget the face and we forget the voice
And the heart, when it’s not beating anymore, there’s no need to go on
You need to let go, and that’s just fine.

With time everything vanishes
And the one who we loved, who we searched for in the rain
the one we recognized on the corner with just one look
between the words, between the lines, and under the make-up
with a made-up oath the night is going away.
With time, everything disappears.

With time everything goes away
the one in whom we believed for nothing and anything
the one to whom we gave the wind & jewels, for whom we would have sold our soul for pennies
the one for whom we suffered like a dog
with time everything disappears

With time everything goes away
we forget the passion and the voice too,
the voice which told you quietly
“Don’t come home too late, be careful not to catch cold…”

With time everything goes away
and we feel tired as a worn-out horse
and we feel frozen like when in a stranger’s bed
and we feel lonely perhaps, but at peace
and we feel blurred by the lost years
Then really…with time…we love no more.

Remembrance Day – November 11 – French amnesia

nov 11 one

Today is a holiday in this country. To honour veterans who fought for France in the wars.  Small French flags, attached to city buses, flutter in the breeze. Large French flags, lining both sides of the Champs Elysées, snap in the cool November air.  And the question I ask every year is the same….where are the British flags?  The American flags? The Canadian flags?

Because as far as the events of World War II are concerned, I think that French memories need refreshing.  To honour the Allied forces – those who died on the D-Day landing beaches and those who liberated Paris from four years of Nazi occupation – I’d like to see British and American and Canadian flags flapping in the breeze alongside the French ones every year on November 11 on the Champs Elysées.

nov 11 two

A brief recap.  On June 6, 1944, better known as the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, American, British and Canadian forces landed on the beaches of Normandy.  Two months later and with the aid of the U.S. 4th Infantry Divisionthe French 2nd Armored Division entered Paris. On August 26th, 1944, General Charles de Gaulle led a celebratory march down the Champs d’Elysees.  He then delivered his famous speech at City Hall that attributed the liberation of Paris entirely to the French.


“Paris!” he declared, “An outraged Paris! A broken Paris! A martyred Paris! But…a liberated Paris!  Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the help of the armies of France, with the support and the help of all of France, of the fighting France, of the only France, the real France, the eternal France!”

Within 24 hours Charles de Gaulle had conveniently forgotten who had done what. I suppose he figured that since he was orating in French, none of the Allies would understand.  (It’s also true that he was treated despicably by Roosevelt and Churchill, so the speech was no doubt his commuppance.)  And today, of course, the myth of la grandeur de la France just gets bigger. While aggrandizing the valour of Charles de Gaulle to monumental proportions, they’ve downplayed the role of the Allies to the point of erasure.  Ah well, every country needs its hero.

I strongly recommend that visitors to France go to Normandy to view the Allied war cemeteries.  I went years ago.   It’s a deeply moving experience.  In fact, I should return for a new visit because the subject would make an excellent blog post.  Do they transport busloads of French teenagers to visit the Normandy war cemeteries as part of the school History curriculum?  No, they don’t.  Instead, they glorify General de Gaulle and the Resistance movement which, according to historian Robert Paxton, was only 2% of the French population.

Years ago, I drove to Vierville-sur-Mer and stayed at the Hotel Casino which is located on the shores of Omaha Beach.  The D-Day museum located there and the nearby American, British and Canadian cemetaries are impressive and worth visiting.  Take your handkerchiefs because the inscriptions on the modest gravestones (primarily in the British cemetaries where the gravestones are made from English limestone) will make you weep.  The next day we moved on to Bayeux, a jewel of a town.  I must say that Normandy, aside from its tragic history, is a lovely region, one of my most favourite regions of France.

US cemetary Francebritish cememtary

For info, the British war cemetery in the town of Bayeux records around 4,648 burials, the largest known British war cemetery. The other two cemeteries are the Canadian soldiers’ cemetery in Cinthaux and the cemetery in Ranville. Ranville is known to be the first French village to be liberated from German occupation during the Second World War.

The Allied invasion of Normandy, code-named Operation Neptune, was the first stage of the larger Operation Overlord, intended to liberate Western Europe after nearly four years of German occupation. The start of Operation Neptune, known a D-Day, was made on June 6, 1944.  More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft carried 160,000 Allied troops across the English Channel to a 50-mile stretch of Normandy beaches, code-named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah. The first air attack was launched under a nearly full moon shortly after midnight. The British and Canadian forces were successful in seizing Gold, Juno and Sword beaches, as were the Americans at Utah beach. However, at Omaha beach, where the German defense was strongest, American forces suffered heavy losses. Air assaults missed their mark and landing crafts were unable reached the intended destinations near the beach, leaving invading soldiers with little protection.Though they suffered an estimated 2,500 casualties, the Americans were able to establish themselves on Omaha beach by the end of the day. In all, more than 100,000 Allied troops had reached Normandy, forcing German forces inland and opening a new theater of war in Western Europe.

The Sierra Club


If I lived in the States, I’d be a member of the Sierra Club.

For those not familiar with this important environmental organization, here’s a brief Wiki description – The Sierra Club was founded on May 28, 1892, in San Francisco, California by the Scottish-American preservationist, John Muir, who became its first president.

Traditionally associated with the progressive movement, the club was one of the first large-scale environmental preservation organizations in the world, and currently engages in lobbying politicians to promote green policies. Recent focuses of the club include promoting green energy, mitigating global warming, and opposing coal. (Thank you, President Obama, for rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project!)  (That was definitely a step in the right direction.)

In addition to political advocacy, the Sierra Club organizes outdoor recreation activities that includes wilderness courses, hikes, rock climbs, and alpine expeditions.

There are some hiking expeditions in Hawaii that appeal to me, I’ve always wanted to visit Hawaii.  Not to laze around a beach but to explore rain forests, volcanos and nature preserves.  Check out their website for really interesting group hiking, cycling, and exploring expeditions all over the world. (link below) 

As you know, the Climate Change Conference is taking place here in Paris at the end of this month.  Below you’ll find the link to the Sierra Club’s #ActInParis campaign.  This campaign aims to bring awareness to the Paris negotiations and support climate action at all levels — from local to national to international.