Bombing does not help

Seen in the Opera house, Amsterdam, on Friday 13 November 2015:


Strange. Very strange indeed. On Friday night, while we were enjoying ‘Dialogues des Carmélites’ of Francis Poulenc at the Amsterdam Opera and were captured by the killing of all those nuns in revolutionary Paris by the mob’s guillotine – the end scene of the opera -, more than hundred citizens were being killed in …. Paris. What a coincidence! The terror and turbulence of the French revolution provides the backdrop for Francis Poulenc’s powerful opera of faith, bravery and redemption. The Dialogues culminate in one of opera’s most devastating final scenes, as Blanche – the timid daugther of an aristocrat – embraces death with her fellow nuns to a transcendent setting of the Salve Regina hymn: sixteen killings. The Canadian Robert Carsen showed us one of the most incisive scenes in the history of world opera, after its premiere in Milan in 1957 almost forgotten by the audience, but now staged in Amsterdam. At the same moment some eight very young islamic fanatics killed more than hundred innocent citizens in Paris. Can you imagine?

Of course, in the streets of Paris in history a lot of killings have been staged. I hope the people in the countryside will not conclude that cities like Paris are dangerous and evil places, where mobs of migrants, refugees and islamists are revolting against the people. Quite the opposite. It’s the countryside that is revolting against the city, or better even: former villagers, now living in cities and feeling disaffected, are the brainchildren of most revolutions. Nothing new. As Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit wrote in ‘Occidentalism. The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies’ (2004): “In Europe, the metropolitan behemoths that swallowed entire rural populations in their glittering maws were often identified with Jews and other rootless moneygrubbers.” Outside Europe, it was the West that was blamed for the metropolitan condition and the vanished rural idyll. The more the East gets urbanized, the more the urban poor in those countries think the West is to blame for their loss of faith, worship, peace, religion, community. Regimes in those countries feed this anger by adopting Western technology without fitting it into the local value system. The result: “The former dream of going back to the purity of an imaginary past: Japan under the divine emperor, the Caliphate under the Islam, China as a community of peasants.” Hopeless, but it happens. Bombing does not help. It makes it only worse.






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