It’s the 14th November, 2015, and I’ve awoken from a very private nightmare into a very public one. Once more, a small number of men of violence have transformed a major city centre on a Friday night from a centre of bustling activity, celebration, and drunken idiocy into a blood-bath. I can’t say I’m numb, exactly. Not quite numb. Sickened? Scared? Yeah, a bit. I feel… outraged. Hurt. I feel like I’VE been attacked, somehow.
Which is in many important ways bullshit and selfish and narcissistic in the extreme. For starters, horror shows like this are happening all over the world every single day, and are not only not breaking, ‘we-interrupt-our-regular-programing’ type news - they’re not news at all. Because they’re happening Somewhere Else, often to people whose skin tone is darker than mine happens to be. And if you’re reading this and thinking that on any level, yes, you are right, and I own the hypocrisy, and am shamed by it. It’s perhaps the ultimate and darkest and most poisonous expression of privilege.
But it doesn’t change how I feel.
And right now, I feel quite a bit like I’m reeling from the emotional equivalent to a crowbar to the head. Stunned. Disoriented. Dislocated, mood swinging between fury and a sadness so deep it borders on despair.
Grief too. Grief for the parents whose children have just been filled with bullets, executed for the mortal crime of liking The Eagles Of Death Metal. Children without parents too, undoubtedly. Lovers, families, friends, workplaces, all facing a gaping bloody wound in their lives where once walked someone they knew. And yes, absolutely, also grief for the many, many innocent muslims who will now feel the need to hold their children that much closer, fear the outside world that much more. And then there are of course the thousands fleeing that utter carnage and brutality of the Syrian civil war, already cowering in abject conditions having fled a horror beyond the minds of most of us to comprehend, who now face victimisation by a grotesque right wing that never lets a good crisis go to waste when they have a chance to further their own vile, nihilistic, blood soaked agenda. Grief, always. Grief most of all.
And yes, this takes place in a context. France has struggled with how to assimilate/accommodate it’s muslim population for some time, and it has not always acquitted itself with honour, to put it mildly. I do not seek to justify, excuse, or apologise for the actions of these murderers. They are vile, base fascists, and beneath contempt. To seek to understand is never, ever, to excuse. At the same time, if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.
And I do feel so very doomed right now. Like many of you, I am sure, I find myself thinking back. To 9/11. To 7/7. To Madrid. And of course to Paris, less than 12 months ago, when homicidal fascists decided their feelings were more important than the lives of those they disagreed with.
Fascism is the word, incidentally - for ISIS and all the criminals they inspire. Islamofascism is not only a redundancy, IMO, but actively misleading. These people have far, far more in common with Hitler and his ideology than they do with the religion of Islam. No, like the KKK, and for identical reasons, they are Nazis, pure and simple. I deny these criminals the dubious legitimacy of veiling their crimes in a religious garb: They are Nazi thugs, whose only true ideology is destruction, bloody death and pain. Fuck them, and fuck everything they stand for. And also, understand this:
This is no more about religion than
Columbine was about Marilyn Manson.
Each time something like this happens, I find myself back in this numbed mindset. Unable to process. Wildly absorbing the horrors of it, compulsively glued to news feeds, somehow hoping the flood of information will form a coherence, a narrative that will allow me to make sense of what I am seeing.
So far, no luck.
And this one feels… especially personal. I genuinely didn’t think I could feel worse than I did after the Charlie Hebdo shooting. As someone who feels like the most important role I play, after those of husband and father, is that of a creative, someone who turns feelings into words and songs, the notion that a sincere expression of art could lead to being murdered offended me to the core. I know that CH is a ‘problematic publication’, incidentally, especially when viewed in the wider context of the treatment of France’s muslim population by the body politic. And France has a strong nationalist party that has a genuinely uncomfortable level of support amongst the general population. Freely acknowledging all that, I remain horrified on a level that I can barely express that satire should be responded to with bullets. Since that day, my FB cover has been a picture of pencils bearing the words ‘This machine kills fascists’. I can’t imagine that I will ever take it down.
Still, we may have topped it with this one. A new depth may just have been plumbed here. Because here’s the thing - I am not a religious person. I’m not much of any kind of man of faith. Doubt, skepticism, and uncertainty are my constant companions. I find myself, for the most part, alienated by tribalism of all kinds. I am a member of a political party, but that was a long time coming, and truthfully, it's still something I feel uncomfortable and conflicted about.
And up until recently, there was only one exception to this, really, and that exception was music.
I’ve been a fan of rock and metal since I was 11 years old, and it’s the nearest thing I have to a tribal allegiance. I have the long hair (receding at a rapid rate but still, for now, intact), the battered leather biker jacket, and more black T-Shirts with band logos on than I can count.
Music is my tribe. Music is the nearest I have to a religion. And a live gig is the nearest I come to church.
I’ve been to many, many amazing shows over the years, and the thing that sticks with me the most is the unwritten Law of The Mosh Pit. Simply put, this is the mutual understanding between all metal heads, punks and rockers, and the understanding it this: In the pit, you go as crazy as you want - pogo, slam, bounce, circle mosh, whatever. The floor is yours, and everyone is fair game for a shoulder barge or push. If you can’t stand the heat, get the fuck out of the pit.
And that stands right up to the moment that someone falls over.
As soon as that happens, the Law of The Pit is clear - if you see someone fall over, you pull them back up.
I’ve seen it, time and time and time again. In Glasgow, watching Slipknot on their first UK tour, at Marilyn Manson in Manchester, Rancid at Brixton Academy. Sepultura, 1999, Big Day Out, Milton Keynes Bowl, 60,000 screaming metalheads, one of the most insane pits I’ve ever seen. Giant skinheads, red faced, faces twisted with rage and dripping with sweat, stinking and heaving and bashing and swinging their arms around like they are karte fighting invisible enemies. I was right in there, feeling that elemental heat, the crush, the energy… and one of those guys knocked me clear off my feet. Before I’d even hit the deck, his arm grabbed mine, pulled me back up. His face had cleared instantly, and he looked just like… well, Dave from accounts, maybe. “You alright?” Big grin. “Yeah, fine!” “Cool!”, and he’s back off into the carnage.
That’s my tribe. These are my people.
This is my church.
So the notion that my tribe, my church, is now considered a target for fascists… Yeah. Fuck you guys.
Because I’ve been here before. 8/7/05. I have tickets to see Queen and Paul Rodgers at Hyde Park. I know the show has been canceled, after the previous days attacks, but I’ve booked the day off and the train ticket anyway, and two of my dearest friends, who I am going to the show with, are living in London, so fuck it. I go anyway. And when I get to Euston, I buy a tube ticket and head down without a pause.
Because fuck them. They don’t get to win.
The gig is postponed a week, but when it does happen, it’s pretty magnificent. He’s no Freddie, but Mr. Rodgers gives a decent account of himself, and hey, it’s Brian May and Roger Taylor, and they’re as good as you might expect.
And then, just over halfway through, something fucking amazing happens. What happens is this.
Not a dry eye in the house. Then or now.
These are my people. This is my tribe. All races, all genders, all religions and none. Absolutely all welcome. Standing together. United in a shared moment of love for life itself.
Fuck you, fascists. You don’t get anywhere near this. You don’t get to stop this, or curtail it.
It’s going to be bad for a while, now. Innocent muslims are going to be targeted by bigots. Genuine refugees will be treated with suspicion and fear. It will be harder to leave those war zones than it already is. And people who should know better will talk about this as a ‘war’, which is a) factually inaccurate, and b) playing right into the hands of the enemy.
Because the whole fucking point is, this isn’t a war. Neither the ‘combatants’ nor the victims are soldiers. So by definition, it’s not a war.
It’s a crime. And it requires a criminal justice response. To do otherwise is to play right into the hands of apocalyptic mad men who want a religious war. Call me old fashioned, but I’d say one of the first principles of winning any kind of conflict would be denying your opponents their goals.
Still, it’ll be hard. Travel will be tougher again for a while. Gigs security will have to step up, with all the inconveniences that you’d expect. An open society with freedom of movement is always vulnerable in this way. And most importantly, right now, tens of thousands of families are traumatised, with many millions more feeling, like me, adrift and shocked and hurt. In the next few days, I’ll be trying, like many, to figure out what and how I can practically help those affected. Maybe I’ll even go beyond a T-Shirt purchase this time and really start getting my shit together with regards to understanding the long term causes of this kind of outrage, and what individual citizens can do to help turn down the heat and minimise the chances of it happening again.
But I’ll tell you what else: I got my Stone Roses tickets, and I got my Download tickets. My leather jacket is in the coat cupboard right now, but come the summer, it’s leaving retirement. And my band is getting back to rehearsals, too.
I’m getting out to some shows. I’m going to reconnect with my tribe.
I’m going back to church.
Fuck you, fascists.
You don’t get to win.
This is MY faith.
PS - Looking for something practical to do? This looks like a potentialy useful start: http://www.today.com/news/paris-attack-heres-how-you-can-help-victims-survivors-t56011 . More than open to further suggestions - please use the comments to sound off.