I was talking to someone recently about why the hardest blow for many people, amongst all of the atrocities to have befallen the world of late, was the one that hit in Paris. There is no good reason, of course, and it’s also not to say that one blow was any more devastating or horrible than any other. You don’t compare tragedies. They stand alone, each defined by their own unique losses – but Paris shook us all.
Maybe for some, it was that it’s closer. Russia is farther away and Syria and Beruit are harder to get at-both geographically and sentimentally-than Paris, because Paris is part legend. It is the home of so much that the world loves: of film and art and design; architecture and history and music. It is a cultural nucleus, and has been for all of recent history. Paris belongs to all of us, and so when someone tried to tear it down, they were attacking us all.
These past few weeks, we’ve all been desperate to resolve ourselves. Everyone has been trying to make sense of the unfathomably tragic events that have rocked the world. And even though we can’t, because there is no sense to be made, we can rise above it. We can feel, we can live, and we can come together.
And in the end, isn’t that the point? Terrorism is an attack on all of us. It is an attack on humanity, on culture, on freedom, and on peace. We have heard time and time again that the best way we can fight the attacks against our peace, is to live as we have been; that the best way to protect our way of life is to protect and care for one another. In spite of all of the awful things that Paris and France have endured in the last year, they remain committed to being the France that we all hold dear and love. France isn’t shying away from its liberal arts, its daring design, and its unbridled imagination. Instead, France is leading the way, opening its arms to the culture of the world and offering it a refuge.
Last week, in his first address since the attacks on Paris, France’s President François Hollande made an announcement which was quite different from the sad but defiant speeches he has been forced to make in recent times. Whilst speaking at the UNESCO Leaders’ Forum, he declared a plan of action, outlining his government’s intention to welcome the world and its creativity and history into France. He announced to Heads of State and Government that France is offering the endangered art of the world a safe haven.
President Hollande announced that France plans to grant ‘”asylum” to art and archeological treasures which are at risk of being destroyed by ISIS. He said: “the right to asylum applies to people… but asylum also applies to works, world heritage”. He indicated that the protection measures would soon be put before French parliament as a law to be considered. He also stated that France would implement the UN Security Council actions to ban the importing, moving, and trade of black-market antiquities.
The moves come after ISIS began systematically destroying artworks and sites of world heritage across Iraq and Syria. So far, the losses have included the Baal Shamin Temple, the Roman-era Arch of Triumph, and the Temple of Bel. Attacks have been followed out on 10 religious and historic monuments in Timbuktu in Mali, where we suffered another tragic attack on human life last week, and ISIS have also seized the ancient city of Palmyra, where they have gone about destroying some of the most significant and culturally prized sites in the city. ISIS also brutally murdered Syrian antiquities expert Khaled al-Assad earlier this year, after he refused to give up where he had hidden many valuable artefacts.
There are many atrocities which I have neglected to name here, and many more losses I haven’t mentioned. This doesn’t negate their importance or significance; it just goes to show how riddled with losses these past months have been. But if we can take anything away from the horror of it all, it’s that they aren’t winning. France and Paris are bruised, not broken, and we as a global community are strong and banded together. Goodness always shines brighter, and this is just one light of many in our fight against the darkness.