The Tricolour is the flag for all of us today
Yesterday I was proud but sad to attend a vigil for the dead of Paris outside Lime Street Station. The vigil had been called at very short notice by some your French people who now live in Liverpool. Some are studying and some are post studies but have decided that Liverpool is the place that they want to live, at least in the short term.
Although there was very little notice almost 100 people gathered and stood in silence to show our respect for those whose lives had been taken. Half were French and half were Scousers. We then went across the road to the Poppy display at St George’s Hall. It was a magnificent back drop to our second vigil. As I was the only councillor there I was asked by the organisers to say a few words on behalf of the city. I reminded those listening that there could not be a better back drop.
The poppy the symbol of resurrection on Flanders Fields. A vivid reminder that the UK and France have stood together for the last 200 years against horror and tyranny. We have done so on the soil of Europe but have done so wherever joint action has been required. We are as one when it comes to issues such as these. A joint European initiative in which we support our fellow Europeans as required.
I reminded people that only the previous weekend our Cenotaph was the scene of the biggest commemoration of the fallen dead outside London. We remembered not only the British and French who had died but all who died. On Flanders Fields people from more than 100 countries died. Many of them not Christian. Many of them Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims who had come to fight side by side with the people, who, at that time, were their colonial masters.
I closed the vigil with the words that had been spoken the week before:
“They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old
Sage shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them”.
That was the tone not only of the vigil and the people of Liverpool who joined in but has generally been the theme of reconciliation and respect that have typified the world wide response. The people that committed such atrocities were not Muslims following the words of the Koran or their prophet. They had distorted the words to such an extent that they became a caricature of the Muslim faith. They not only struck against the West with their actions but struck a huge blow against their own religion.
I know hundreds of Muslims and have lived for 3 years in a Muslim Country. I know of no Muslim who believes anything that remotely resembles the filth that lives in the minds of these fanatics. Like all other peoples the Muslim faith has its share of people who behave badly. BUT no more and no less than those of any other faith or creed.
Because I was the only councillor there I did a number of press interviews not only about the massacres but also the wider context of what is happening in the Middle East.
I am not an expert in these matters but two things occur to me.
Firstly, military action is not the answer. It may be necessary in the short-term especially when dealing with people like ISIL. I lost no sleep over the death of Jihadi John. I would have preferred for him to be captured, tried and imprisoned after a trial that brought out the facts. However, I live in the real world and that was never going to happen. In which case we need to protect ourselves from his like. We know from Iraq and Libya that getting rid of a despotic system or despot is not the end of a problem. It often leads to even worse difficulties than before. That leads to the second point;
Secondly, the only way to change things is to change hearts of minds. It seems to me highly unlikely that a white man like me with a none faith background can change the hearts of ISIL members. The people who can are the moderate members of the same faith who can out quote these people on the Koran and its interpretation. We need to find a way to engage far more moderate Muslims in the figurative fight against the extremists.
Perhaps there is a third thing that we can do. That is to be more consistent when we meet people who faith is extreme. I find much of the Saudi Arabian version of faith quite repugnant. Floggings, beheadings, restricted rights for women cannot be considered acceptable because that State has lots of money. We must be consistently clear about our own values and promote them in our daily lives.
But these things are for the medium to long term. Next month I will be spending 4 days in Paris at a UCLG meeting of 1,000 local and regional government leaders from around the World. There wasn’t a minute’s consideration of the idea that we might cancel because of what happened. That would be to give in – to surrender to the fanatics. Instead we will meet to discuss a range of issues including what we as local politicians can do in the Middle East which I visited in the summer.
We stand with people of good faith and good views wherever in the World they live. But today we especially stand alongside our neighbours and European friends in France as they repair the heart of their great city – Paris.