I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…
For my wife, our infant son, and me, it was a thirteen-minute walk from our home to where the first fifteen lives were taken by gunfire in the terrorist attack in Paris. Straight out our door right onto Rue Eugene Varlin, a couple of blocks to cross the Canal Saint-Martin, right along the waterway, past the children playing ping-pong, the occasional boat making its way through the locks. It’s a beautiful neighborhood of Parisian Paris (not much of Paris isn’t beautiful); not many tourists.
Curving along to the south a few more blocks to Rue Bichat the last long leg to Rue Alibert, an intersection that looks like a collision of five different streets designed before the invention of the ruler. And there, had we taken this walk the evening of 13 November instead of twenty-two years ago, my baby boy would have seen, in front of the dive bar Le Carillon and across from it the Cambodian restaurant Le Petit Cambodge, bodies and blood.
I don’t remember Paris this way. The year we lived there, the year Bill Clinton was elected and hailed the new John Kennedy (rightly but for the wrong reason), Paris seemed the safest place in the world.
Certainly safer than Santa Barbara, where our son would miss (this time by less than four days), the second (though first in time) mass murder by gunshot in his hometown neighborhood.
Safer than New York, where our daughter went to The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music to study the wonderful instrument she carries around at the bottom of her throat. Terrorist threats weren’t much of a factor in her decision to go New York: she was in first grade when the terrorists last crashed that party, and hadn’t yet sung a note. Her second choice in 2013 was Berklee School of Jazz, right around the corner from the finish line of the Boston marathon. Until 15 April that year, her godfather, who lives near Boston, was sorry she’d chosen New York.
I felt the kind of danger that might call for lethal defense only once in Paris, those years ago. It was the January morning after the first President Bush sent a century of war planes to bomb Iraq yet again, nearly two years to the day he started the First Gulf War to make the world safe for billionaires.
A man, who might have been Iraqi, stared murderously at me on a Metro platform, saying over and over, “Salaud! Salaud! Salaud!” Bastard! Bastard! Bastard! His hand moved inside his coat pocket and he looked toward my gut. His gaze shifted to my wife, holding her blue wool coat closed protectively over her child, three weeks short of his birth. Then he stared at her gut, and I went cold with fear and resolve. I moved so that his gaze swung back to me, and I held it with a stare that must have looked to him at least as murderous as his own, because he backed off and left the platform.
It was only later in the morning that I saw a French newspaper and understood the cause of this man’s hatred for me and my family. Until then it was senseless. Senseless to me.
That was not the first time we showed that part of the world how oil means so very much more to us than Muslim lives. We’ve continued to show them until, well, what time is it there now?
So many, many appalling crimes between then and now. But senseless? There are no senseless crimes but to the insensible.
My daughter was in Paris only a few weeks ago. My son is about to board a plane so that we can give thanks next Thursday he arrived here safely.
My children have missed opportunities to be present at the scenes of mass murder by margins horrifying to any parent who doesn’t wish his children dead.
Would that the God of the Hebrews, the God of the Christians, the God of the Muslims, the god of every faith imaginable and unimaginable, provide children — all the children of the world — with such missed opportunities.