The Notre Dame Fire – Why it strikes a chord in many Indian hearts and minds
For the last few days, the world’s attention has been riveted on a terrible tragedy that has struck one country and one city. The fire that engulfed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has saddened and grieved millions of people all over the world, even those who have little in common with France and Paris.
This is because the magnificent structure in the heart of Paris (and indeed the heart of the French Republic, because this building is the point from which all physical distances in France are measured) is an inseparable part of the world’s patrimony, in the same way as the ancient temples in our own country, the Parthenon in Greece, Machu Pichu in Peru, the shrines in China and the Pyramids of Egypt, just to give a few random examples.
Emmanuel Macron, the French President who, in my opinion (and that of most of his fellow citizens), ranks as one of the least distinguished holders of this office, salvaged some esteem when he came up with a very moving response to the tragedy that had struck his nation: “Notre Dame de Paris is our history, our literature, the place where we have lived all our great moments, epidemics, wars and liberation. It is the epicentre of our lives, it is the cathedral of all the French. This is history, it is ours and it is burning. A part of us burns”.
For me, as indeed with many others over so many centuries, France is a country that resonates very closely with my psyche, possibly right next to my own motherland. There are personal reasons. This is a country that welcomed my father when he landed there virtually penniless, after having been disinherited by his elder patriarch for the gall to have chosen France as a country to study in, rather than Britain, the-then imperial sanctum for Indian students. He studied and lived in France for more than eleven years before returning to the motherland. He loved and admired the French Republic, without, for a moment, condoning its imperial crimes and excesses in different parts of the world.
It’s a strange phenomenon, he used to tell me when I had not even reached double digits in age. A country that has admirers all over the universe. When I attained the age of alleged maturity, I read about the saying that every person has two countries – his or her own motherland, and France. This was attributed widely but not very accurately to Thomas Jefferson, who, in the good company of Benjamin Franklin and other founding figures of the American Republic, was a confirmed Francophile.
The reason for this was the support extended by the French during the independence wars of the young country against Britain. Jefferson’s exact words were the following in his autobiography: “So ask the travelled inhabitant of any nation, in what country on earth would you rather live? Certainly, in my own where are all my friends, my relations, and the earliest & sweetest affections and recollections of my life. Which would be your second choice? France.”
The resonance of the French Revolution extended to our shores even when Pax Britannica was firmly ruling this ancient land and its civilisation. The great Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who is occasionally pilloried most unfairly by some overenthusiastic but ill-informed ideologues in the Indic civilisation movement, was very enthused by Republican France. When he was on his way to England in 1831 to present the Suttee Petition, his ship was docked next to a French vessel in an African port. Although unwell, the Raja insisted on being carried to the French ship that was flying the flag of “freedom and liberty”, so that he could personally present his symbolic respect.
Fast forward to the 20th century and we can recollect the experiences of Veer Savarkar and Madame Cama. Even when we were still under British bondage, the courage and valour of our soldiers fighting for the British rulers in the cold and mud of Flanders and eastern France touched the hearts of the average French person. So moved were they by the bravery of the ordinary Indian soldier, that the legendary French Marshal, Ferdinand Foch, had this to say when the magnificent memorial to the Indian soldiers was inaugurated in 1927 in Neuve Chapelle:
“Return to your homes in the distant, sun-bathed East, and proclaim how your countrymen drenched with their blood the cold northern lands…how they delivered it by their ardent spirit from the firm grip of a determined enemy; tell all of India that we shall watch their graves with the devotion due to all our dead. We will cherish above all the memory of their example. They showed us the way—they took the first steps towards final victory.”
Coming back to the present, India and France find they are confronted with the same existential threats. Both have elites and oligarchies that resolutely cover up or conceal this threat. And periodically, both countries are forced to do some navel-gazing. At this stage, I am not at all suggesting that the present Notre Dame tragedy has its origins in any terrorism-related source and it would be most improper to come up with such hypotheses.
However, it would be equally unwise to hide and conceal the vicious glee with which Islamists in many parts of the world, particularly in France’s dangerous neighbourhood of North Africa and West Asia, have celebrated the Notre Dame tragedy. There are credible reports of ghoulish pleasure being displayed by Muslims as they show their reaction to this catastrophe. In a Tweet, a French analyst shows a very large number of messages with smileys that are celebrating the terrible incident.
Just a few weeks ago, another church in France was the target of an incendiary attack. Although the reason for this incident has not been confirmed, France has seen a number of heartrending attacks on Churches in the last two years, including the decapitation of a priest inside a church by a young Islamist fanatic.
Some readers may not fully remember the obscene agitprop exercise done by so-called “secularist” elements in India after the 26-11 Mumbai carnage in 2008. People like Digvijay Singh and company held a public meeting in which they openly propagated the drivel that the entire outrage was actually executed by the RSS. The heavens wept when this was being done. The Indian state, then under the egregious leadership of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi was a mute spectator.
In the last three years, after the change of dispensation in Raisina Hill, both India and France have responded meaningfully to the tragedies the other partner country has suffered. When either country is attacked viciously by the forces of jihadi terror and darkness, the citizens of the other react in sorrow. When the attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo took place, there was an outpouring of grief in our shores. A few discordant notes were struck by some insensitive yobs in the desi 4th Estate, but Indians universally condemned the barbarity. When the atrocity of the 13th November 2015 occurred, the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi categorically declared that India stood by “the great people” of France in the terrible tragedy.
However, the Indian fault lines started manifesting themselves and the worms started crawling out of the woodwork. The execrable U.P. mobster leader Azam Khan, who can always be relied upon to be an Islamic Don Quixote, opened the can and let fly his sordid world-view, where there is nothing sacrosanct except his own faith and religion. Before the country and its population could recover from this onslaught, we had the Congress marionette, Mani Shankar Aiyar, spouting his more sophisticated version of Azam Khan’s obscenities.
I cannot forget the travesty enacted after the Charlie Hebdo, massacre a few years back. We had a desi glitterati columnist, one of the secularist queen bees, pontificating that the murdered writers and cartoonists should not have had the gall to write or paint anything that lampooned Islam. However, the same woman has no compunction in penning the most scurrilous pieces on Hinduism and the Indic faiths. All her articles, of course, are written in the same nauseating chichi prose style that these people pick up in their convent schools.
France is a glaring example, where colonial residues have persisted more stridently than in other countries in Europe and North America. Admittedly, the difficult economic climate that the Western world has seen ever since the Yom-Kippur war of 1973, has made the situation even worse. Alarmingly high unemployment rates among the Arab immigrants have added to the social cauldron and made the task of the jihadi mullahs much easier. The ersatz sense of deprivation in the Arab banlieues (suburbs) mirrors the feelings in the Indian mohallas and both are fertile territories for Islamist propaganda.
In India, passions are also whipped up because of deliberate falsification and obfuscation of data by people like Sachar and his colleagues in the so-called Sachar Committee appointed by the UPA lot. One need hardly add that certain political parties like the Congress and its junior cohorts like the Samajwadi and the TMC are the primary culprits in the concoction of the deadly brew of Islamist fanaticism.
The sad reality is that Muslims in both the countries have conveniently operated under the “victim” umbrella. There has been little attempt to turn the searchlight on themselves and their ingrained attitudes. This is no place to start a complicated debate on the fundamental differences between the Indic faiths and Islam. Yet, one cannot but bring up the issue, because it lurks behind all discussions on this subject, like a ghost that hovers in the shadow and wants to come out in the open.
We have this grotesque display of blatant pro-Islamist agitprop by intellectuals in both France and in India. Historically, some writers in France who were strongly anti-Jewish in their attitudes, showed a morbid pro-Arab stance in their writings. This is less prevalent nowadays. In India, on the other hand, the sleazy corpus of “secularist” intellectuals shows no signs of easing up on their rabid outpourings. Their strange fascination and admiration for a violent ideology that wants to decimate a 5000-year-old culture and civilisation is bizarre and inexplicable.
However, the danger signals are clear for both the countries, with the Indian symptoms being vastly more ominous. The fault lines in our shores are not only ideological but also geographical and demographic. There are parts of India which are no-go zones for the Indian Republic and its agencies. The federal structure of our country makes this possible, unlike in France, which is a strongly unitary state. Witness the speed with which President Hollande managed to declare a state of emergency and launch the full might of the country against the forces that unleashed the 2015 violence in Paris.
India and France indeed have weaknesses that Islamic terrorism can take advantage of. However, our situation is much more precarious; with all its perceived weaknesses, France will never see the sort of ceremonial send-off given to Yakub Memon, an executed mass-murderer-terrorist, that we witnessed in Mumbai a few years ago.
Even as one hopes that the fire in Notre Dame was caused by natural factors, the sense of loss cannot be hidden. Let me conclude by fervently hoping that the heartrending events will lead France to emerge stronger and more resilient. As the great Irish savant Samuel Beckett, who chose to make France his home and French his language of expression, said so movingly, “I can’t go on, I will go on”. Victor Hugo whose masterpiece novel had Notre Dame as its backdrop would have echoed the same thoughts.
Featured Image: Jihad Watch