What an unusual time to be in Paris! Its not a happy time but after today it does feel like a time of renewal, of solidarity – one very strong voice speaking out against violent extremists!
We started our day heading to the Eiffel Tower because we had tickets booked online weeks ago to climb the Paris landmark. We had thought about participating in the Unity Rally in Paris but it was starting at the same time we were booked to go up the tower. However when we arrived at the tower we found out that they had stopped all trips up the tower until 6.30pm – we assume it was an extra security measure. We were told our tickets would be refunded..
This left us with time to find the rally and show our solidarity for free speech. We also understood that this is a time that will be marked in the pages of history – we will be able to say, we were here and we did join the rally to show support. Simon and I also felt it would be a great lesson for the kids to see large groups of people rallying around a positive message, especially after the tragedies they have experienced unfolding in Paris this week! Finishing the week on a high note was important.
So after a number of train trips we eventually found the end point of the rally (Place de la Nation) accidentally. We came out of the underground and joined the tens of thousands (millions according to the news) of people gathered in this square and still arriving – this was at least an hour after the walk started. When watching the news some 3 hours later, people were still arriving in that square.
We were swept up by the positive voice of everyone around us – there were loads of signs saying “Je suis Charlie” and various statements about free speech and solidarity. This has presented us a great opportunity to explain these concepts to the kids in a real, “its happening before your eyes” kind of way.
We have been able to talk to the kids about the Voltaire saying, “I do not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”. This saying epitomises what has been going on here in Paris (and many other places in the world including the siege in Sydney, our home country).
We’ve heard many people talk about extremistism and the danger it poses, but I’m not sure I agree totally – after all, I feel rather extreme about my travelling at the moment and when I’m in the middle of marathon training my mother and a number of other people will tell you I’m being extreme! So how do we judge what is extreme?
To me its not the extremists its the lack of tolerance of anyone who does’t agree with you that is the problem! I have plenty of family and friends who have never run a marathon and think its absolutely the stupidest thing I do, but we all tolerate our very different opinions of marathon running.
The dictionary talks of extremism as people who stray too far from the normal in society (especially in politics or religion), they hold very different views and beliefs than most people. I don’t see any thing inherently wrong with this, unless it also comes with intolerance of other people’s views.
Our western society spends some time encouraging people to think outside the box and not be just like everyone else. It’s only when people choose a different path from the norm that we grow, change and evolve as a species. But as humans we also have an innate need to make those around us understand our opinion and even to share it. However as a juxtaposition, when someone dares to put their head up too high they are endanger of losing it (although not literally). In Australia we call this the tall poppy syndrome.
We need tall poppies who are brave enough to stand up and be different, but we don’t need intolerant or violent extremists.
To repeat Voltaire – “I do not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”.
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