AS I start to write this article, I must point out how I feel personally affected by this shocking terror incident involving four very young children aged under three and two adults stabbed in the Pâquier Park near the Lake of Annecy. For the first 15 years of my life, I spent every summer holiday in the delightful city of Annecy, playing in that very spot where decades later children were viciously stabbed by a man whose actions can only be described as cowardly.
The facts of the attack are coming to light as time progresses. According to the 24-hour news channel BFM TV, the attacker is a 32-year-old Syrian who gained the status of refugee in Sweden on April 26 this year, and had been visiting France regularly since then. He had sought asylum from the French authorities at the end of November 2022, but his application was discontinued on gaining refugee status in Sweden. In terms of European law, the attacker was no longer considered illegal on French territory. Curiously, it emerges that he was married in Sweden and has children of a similar age to the ones he stabbed. The most recent revelation at time of writing is that he is a Christian in possession of a cross and a prayer book.
President Macron has called the attack ‘an act of absolute cowardice’ on Twitter and MPs in the French parliament have kept a minute’s silence in homage to the victims.
Something in me has been violated today: childhood memories of the games I played on the very spot where children have been brutally and senselessly attacked, and Annecy itself, which in adulthood has become a reference point where members of my family meet in the summer, a place of family pilgrimage, if you like, a place where my father’s ashes are buried under an apple tree overlooking the lake.
All this leads me today to reflect on the journey we have travelled since those days of my childhood in the 1960s. The question I keep asking myself is how we have made the countries of Europe less safe than they were then. Whatever the assailant’s motive, one wonders how it is that such dangerous individuals travel the length and breadth of Europe unimpeded, no questions asked.
A great many French people will now fear for the safety of their children and maybe this is the intention of these seemingly unstoppable ‘lone wolf’ attacks: to instil fear in the minds of law-abiding populations.
The only response must be that of my favourite writer, Jane Austen: ‘My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me’ (Pride and Prejudice). This is because fear demeans us, makes us less human than we are and finally divorces us from the love of God.
In an earlier TCW article, ‘Muslims must learn to love their neighbour’, I hoped that we would not be reduced to vengeance or fear and that religious leaders would pray together to be forgiven for the murders committed by their co-religionists. Even if this incident is not directly the outcome of religion being instrumentalised, this call can be renewed today for all of us, those of faith and of non-faith, as yet another atrocity has been perpetrated on French soil and children have been its innocent victims.