It’s a game I play every year. How long does it take to put a stain on New Year? Just as increasingly fancy fireworks go off around the world at midnight, so too does the year spoil and muck up. A global climax of celebratory hope reverberates, and, next morning, perfect Public Holiday stillness as the hangover fug clears and we make the first nervous steps into 2015, wearing our New Year resolutions like see-through dressing gowns.
Then, the milk spills, a family argument, the inevitable first tears or sharp word, a flat tyre… life swings back to normal settings. In my house it’s usually by around day six, if not before.
But it was almost exactly a week after fireworks lit up the City of Light that the first world news headlines horrified all over again. Twelve people assassinated at work in Paris, 11 injured. Philippe Val, the former editor and publisher of the satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo, said he’d lost all his friends. Good people, he said, who loved to make people happy, to make them laugh, to give them generous ideas, who stood for liberty.
They were editors, cartoonists, journalists, all meeting about ideas in the middle of the day, driven to make a difference by provoking a reaction; working to the death shadowed by bodyguards and a police presence at the front door. All shot dead, and in the centre of working Paris.
Already the last days of last year were revisited with the vision of yet more innocent people being slaughtered going about their daily lives. Echoes of Martin Place café-goers, of Boston runners, of a solider in Woolwich… Somehow the French national motto of liberté, égalité, fraternité, seemed to wrap around the whole world as solidarity made headlines. Yes, solidarity and fraternity, a common stance across nations. Normally you only see this kind of crowd at a football match, not for an intellectual ideal spoken in French. But, in a new 21st Century, it was quickly hash-tagged into a three-word catchphrase: “Je suis Charlie”.
“We cannot let silence set in, we need help,” said Philippe Val. “We all need to band together against this horror. Terror must not prevent joy, must not prevent our ability to live… We cannot allow this, this is an act of war.”
It might be the other side of the world in another language. But imagine if this was your workplace, if a friend had been shot for having an opinion, or drawing a cartoon. How outraged would you be? We need big ideas against idealism gone wild.
In Tasmania we are, in the great scheme of things, a small place but we are peaceful and our religions do not make wars or buy rifles. Country churches – challenged by dwindling congregations and ever increasing costs of maintenance – are one of the last vestiges of pure community. Many of us choose not to worship a god, but worship, instead, the right for people to pray to theirs, alongside others, in peace; to park in a paddock, come together, rest our woes.
We are all wondering what can we do after the Charlie Hebdo killings. Who will provide the answers? Can our churches answer the challenge of what Tony Abbott calls “a death cult”? Will our philosophers and thinkers help answer the questions people are asking: what is going on in this world?
I wish for our island smallness to be a centre of big ideas; for us to make politics about the bigger things, not the pettiest. Advance ways to peace, not bigotry. To talk more about ethics not markets. How can the market economy fix people gunned down at their desks, executed by a Kalashnikov rifle?
Why not ask the bigger questions of others from this place? You could say we have relatively little to lose. Will all churches convene? How will Islam rescue its youth? What is missing in these young men’s lives? Who will stop the killings? When will attacks on journalists end?
In Tasmania, all our islands are inherently beautiful, and we have space and inspiration to be at peace. We can be agile, heck, we all bump into each other in Myers. So why not make politics about our community. Celebrate the way we live together, talk about what makes it work, address what doesn’t. Resolve to come together every year, improve on last year, find ways to keep learning, updating, reviewing, finding better paths to happiness, health and peace.
A week on from the trillions spent on a global fireworks party, we saw new fireworks: candles lit freely in Lyon, Brussels, Copenhagan, Marseilles, in Geneva, and Trafalgar Square. A sign made in lights: “NOT AFRAID”. So much more powerful than any pyrotechnic show.
A recent cover of Charlie Hebdo featured a magazine cartoonist, with a pencil tucked behind one ear, pashing a Muslim man. The headline reads: L’Amour: Plus Fort Que La Haine. Love: stronger than hate.
Let’s not sweat the small stuff. Let’s find ways to make peace across parties while still being free to say what we think. In a small place we waste energy and time having the same arguments, filling in forms before using our hearts, applying our minds. We are stronger with a common stance.
Can events like this inspire us to re-frame our own politics? Take account of a world made smaller by big issues and put peace front of mind? We are more peaceful here than in much of the rest of the world. Why can’t this be our selling point, too?
First published in Tasweekend, Saturday Mercury, 17th January, 2015