by Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak
(Author’s Note: This column was written before I learned of last night’s massacre of 50 country music fans in Las Vegas. The last two paragraphs — Camus’s lesson for the survivors — could apply to coping with this event as well.)
There may be no more euphoric place in the world to inhale the timeless aroma of the Sea and feel the memory of ancient Mediterranean civilizations course through your bones than the heights of the steep stairway in front of the Saint-Charles train station atop Marseille, overlooking this 2000-year old city immortalized by the stories of Marcel Pagnol, the songs of Vincent Scotto, the milky liquor of pastis, the soaps and miniature ‘santon’ sculptures of Provençe and (more recently) the soap operas of ‘Plus Belle la Vie.’ And yet yesterday two young women, cousins each 20 years old, taking in the Sun on the splendid esplanade at the top of the stairs as they waited for the train to take the visiting cousin back to Lyon, had their destinies aborted and their natural timelines cut short by a cult of thugs which blasphemies the ancient civilization and its G-d which it shamelessly evokes as cover for its cowardly cult of death, as another of its fanatic followers stabbed one cousin to death and then returned to attack the other. (At presstime, the identify of the two women had not been released. Full story, in French, here.)
Until hearing this news this morning, I’d felt exasperated by a mainstream media which, with its relentless focus on terrorism, promotes a jaundiced view of the world in which we live — which still abounds in beauty — and, not so much by reporting their crimes (as it should), but by placing them at the top of every newscast in some way enables a major goal of the terrorists’ agenda, which is to *occupy* our minds with their bleak vision of the world.
But then, seeing the senseless murder of these two young women (in a place that symbolizes light) relegated by yesterday’s contentious Catalonian vote for Independence to the second tier of this morning’s newscasts here in France, I realized that I was wrong: We can never treat these bloody crimes as anodyne. Two young women with long futures in front of them, waiting in the Sun in one of the most bucolic spots in the world before continuing their journeys, had the promise of their lives taken away from them by a coward who sneaked up behind them and killed them on behalf of a gang of mass murderers which does not believe in anything but death. Which dares to invoke G-d to rob these young women — the most frail of targets — of something that G-d has given and that only G-d can take away.
But if we need to continue calling attention to these crimes and thus calling out these criminals for what they are — lache murderers, whose acts don’t glorify G-d but defile him — we also need to resist ceding to their terror and falling into the abyss of fear, which is what they want.
In “La Peste” (The Plague), Albert Camus’s allegorical novel written during the Nazi occupation of France, Dr. Rieux, the narrator, tells Rambert, an out-of-town journalist set on escaping the quarantine of plague-stricken Oran (like Marseille, a city on a hill facing the Mediterranean) to retrieve his sweetheart, that he does not blame him for trying to rejoin her because everyone has the right to pursue their happiness.
I will mourn these young women (as I mourn the 50 country music fans shot down last night in Las Vegas), I will curse Desh for murdering them, I will pray for a France that does not respond to their deaths with fear but by preserving as precious the country these young women would have merited, but I will also be invigorated by their youth to pursue the happiness that was their just merit, and to continue believing in a France which embraces the tradition of Camus: Just, combating with its intellect and ideas the nihilists, engaging the best it has to offer — its minds — to vanquish this latest plague.
* “La vie à en mourir, lettres de fusillés 1941-1944,” Taillandier, 2003. Cited on Wikipedia.