From Beirut to Paris, Pagans express shock and sadness

Cara Schulz —  November 17, 2015 — 12 Comments

The recent terror attacks in Lebanon and France have sent shockwaves through Europe and the United States. On Nov 12, Beirut suffered a double suicide bombing killed 43 and wounded more than 200 people. That was quickly overshadowed by events the next day in France, where 129 people have died and over 100 were wounded. Daesh has claimed responsibility for both attacks.

In response, France has initiated a military campaign against suspected terrorist targets in Syria and has arrested over 100 suspects. Anti-immigration protests are taking place nationwide, and theits President has proposed changes to the French constitution that would expand his powers. Belgian officials are considering shutting down what what they call “certain radical mosques” in Molenbeek, an area that has been linked to a major terrorist attack five times in the past 18 months.  And, the Governors of 26 U.S. states have now said they will not accept Syrian refugees unless there is a stringent screening in place.

As this international crisis continues to evolve on a macro scale, these brutal attacks and their aftermath, have affected people on the micro level, including many Pagans who live in both France and Lebanon.

Lebanon
In Beirut, two suicide bombers struck at rush hour in a busy shopping district. Daesh said that they chose the neighborhood because it is home to Shiite and Palestinians, both of whom it views as apostates. Although Beirut has endured such attacks in the past, it had been relatively calm and peaceful for many months.

downloadLeyla, a polytheist living in a suburb of Beirut said that the city isn’t as a dangerous a place as many Americans may think. She said, “[It] has been calm for months. Then the bombing happened. The bombing was shocking. We are shocked. We have been enjoying cafes and visiting friend, now we stay at home.”

She added that the bombing by Daesh has also increased tensions between Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees living in Beirut. She explained that many homes are filled to overflowing with extended relatives who had to flee Syria. “I pray to Ashtarte to bring peace to our country and to the whole of our place. We have so many refugees from Syria, but now they are suspicioned. Yes, you trust your family from Syria, but others? Are they refugees or men with bomb belts? We do not know.”

Leyla said that she is also worried about France’s military actions, but even more so she worries that Daesh will take over Lebanon. “The attacks on Daesh by France are good and bad. Daesh must be stopped. After they swallow Syria, they swallow Lebanon.” Leyla added that she especially fears what will happen to Pagans like herself and to her family. “[Daesh] will kill all pagans, all Christians, all those not them. It is known they kidnap and keep for raping women who aren’t Islam. But bombs from France will not stop them, only kill innocents. Bombs spread sadness.”

The suicide bombings in Beirut were barely making onto the world’s radar when the Paris attacks happened. Attention was immediately diverted. Leyla said that she’s hurt, but understands, “We, too, were more shocked [of the] attack in Paris than attack here. Paris is thought so safe and Lebanese have special ties to France. If such acts happen there, how is anyone safe?”

France
In France, the attacks took the form of several suicide bombings and shootings. The first explosion occurred outside the Stade de France, located just outside of Paris. The attacker attempted to gain entry to the facility, but was stopped from entering. Another suicide attacker blew himself up at a fast food restaurant near the stadium. Meanwhile in the heart of Paris, gunmen attacked patrons at the Le Carillon bar, and then crossed the street to attack diners at the Le Petit Cambodge restaurant. Then came yet another attack on diners a few streets away at the Le Café Bonne Bière and La Casa Nostra pizzeria. The next reports of shootings were at the La Belle Equipe bar, further south. The final attacks happened at the restaurant Le Comptoir Voltaire and in the 1500 seat Bataclan concert venue.

download (1)French officials have said that it appeared there were “three coordinated teams” responsible for the attack. While most of the terrorists have been identified as native French citizens, one of them may have slipped into France by pretending to be a Syrian refugee.  

French Pagans, like their co-religionists in Beirut, responded to the attacks with shock.

Babette Petiot, a French Polytheist living in the Auvergne countryside, said, “Everyone is shocked, but how not to be, it is the biggest attack on France since WWII. From what I have seen, the reactions were prayer, the Ligue Wiccane Eclectique organised Saturday night a Facebook event for people to pray or have a small personal ritual. And on French blogs, it was mostly about sharing love and sending love.”

The Facebook prayer event was created for “Wiccans and pagans who want to unite to pray for the victims of the shooting in Paris of 13.11 and their families, we offer a ritual convergence tonight at 21h Paris time.” Organizers asked people to “direct [their] thoughts, comfort and peace to the souls of those shot and their relatives, and the injured of Paris.”  According to the event page, 42 people participated.

The prayer event included the following chant:

Paix en nous, paix en eux,
Paix autour de nous et paix autour d’eux,
Paix ici, paix là-bas,
Paix à [Paris] et et paix dans le monde,
Apaisons les tensions, accueillons la …

Xavier Mondon, spokesperson for La Ligue Wiccane Eclectique, said that he hasn’t sensed any fear or anger in the city. He said the mood was more one of sadness, “And, also, a willingness to be united, all together against this craziness. That will not last: French people like to argue, and are not always in agreement with each other. But for this moment, there is a willingness to unite and be present.”

Ms. Petiot said that tensions have risen in France, and that there have been some retaliation directed at Muslim communities. She said that this sentiment could affect the upcoming December elections and tilt them in favor of the far right and its anti-immigration platform. She also added that this political calculation may be affecting how the current French government responds.

Petiot explained, “France was already engaged in Syrian conflict beforehand alongside our US allies. François Hollande, our president, has a nickname: ‘Flamby’ [a very soft flan au caramel dessert]. As you can imagine, it is associated with weakness, spineless, softness … Like doormat if you see what I mean. After the refugees crisis in Europe, that is still carrying on, he mostly followed Germany’s and Angela Merkel’s opinions. Friday night, he was in the Stade de France, at the soccer match France-Germany. It is believed he was one of the targets in those terrorists attacks. Because of this, he had to react ‘strong’ and ‘hard.’ “

Mondon, who lives in Paris, said that he himself hasn’t heard much criticism of the president. “I have not heard anyone criticizing Hollande about the raids. Truthfully, there is little talk of politics. It is now a time for contemplation and for solidarity. Politics will come later.”

In a previous interview with The Wild Hunt, Petiot describes France as a very secular country, one in which religious people are somewhat looked down upon. In that article, Petiot explained that the French have a very different relationship with religion, “There has always been this vision of [religiosity] as something for the poor, non-educated, or for women. [This] explains partly why secularism is such a big deal. I’m almost sure a French person will far more easily talk you about sex than religion.”

The existing cultural divide between a small minority, who are described as overtly religious, and the over 80% of French people who do not describe themselves as religious. This may be partly what Daesh wished to exploit. The Wild Hunt asked Petiot and Mondon for some insight into how France’s cultural views of religion affect the current situation.

Mondon explained that French secularism is not an anti-religious sentiment. “On the contrary, it permits all religions to co-exist. Muslims, just like Christians, Pagans, Atheists and even followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, have a right to express their beliefs. It is absolutely permissible, except for in public schools or public administration. As far as I can see, this passive coexistence and respect for differences has not been threatened [by recent events.] On the contrary, the current feeling of national unity is moving us closer to this ideal.”

Going into more detail, Petiot had this to say:

France was a colonial power. Most Muslims [here] are second or third generation in France. They are Muslims by tradition, like most french Christians, who go to church only on Christmas and weddings and such, so do Muslims in mosques. They spend Eid with family, try to do the Ramadan but drink alcohol and live mostly like everybody else. We have 7% of the French population who declare themselves Muslim. But only a very small part of this is really openly religious, with hijab or abaya worn by women and djellabas bearded men …

This small group is [seen as] the real problem. French motto is “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” By their attitudes and outfits they negate the motto, because of religious beliefs, ‘I will not dress like you, we are not equals, we are not brothers.’ They do not realise, but it is very aggressive, especially to those born during WWII and the flower power generation. You know, something lost in translation … 

She explained how most French people feel that if you have a religion, “we are very happy and proud of you. [But] the problem begins when you show it off … I find it gross and rude, and certainly not acceptable!” Petiot further added,

As for the refugees, it is a completely different problem. Those people were living lives very similar to our own, most of those are educated and fled for their lives, they had enough money to attempt the daring trip. Unfortunately, and because of a very small proportion of visible devout Muslims, those refugees are perceived like a threat. And frankly, it is stupid …

I believe most French people don’t really recall their own history. Because of our geographic [location], we are at the center of population flows: celts, gauls, franks, romans, goths, hiberians, vikings, sarrasins … And we have been also great invaders … and not only in Europe! I believe mixing is a formidable chance. I believe in humanity.

Some Pagans events in Paris were cancelled after the President declared a State of Emergency, but outside of Paris, events are still happening. Petiot said, “As for me, this weekend, I will share an art exhibition with a few of my fellow artists. I am completely changing the layout and I will present calligraphic artwork on freedom theme. And we will share art, culture, music and obviously food! And we will drink wine, in honor of the innocents who were killed, in honor of those who survived, in honor of all our [First Responders] and for the conviviality. Because it is our way of life since the dawn of time.”

Cara Schulz

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Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.
  • Babette Petiot

    Hi,
    I need to do a correction about my quote about religion.
    Here is what I have sent you :

    I will try to explain religion in another way. In France, we are laic. it
    means religion is something private.

    So let’s assume religion is a dick. If you have one, good for you! If you
    have a big one, we are very happy and proud of you. The problem begins when you
    show it.

    What would be your reaction if people began showing their dicks
    unexpectedly? Even to children? Personnaly I find it gross and rude, and
    certainly not acceptable!

    Now, you can imagine how some people in France feel when they are
    confronted to women wearing hidjabs or bearded men in djellabas…They are very
    unconfortable.”

    This are my words.

    And the end was meant as a joke
    “Because it is our way of life since the down of time. (Check Astérix albums for
    historical proof *joking*)”

    Salutations.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Babette:Having started my end of this exchange I really cannot withhold it at this point. That would be gross and rude.The parallel you make between religion and genitals, privileges the aggressively anti-religious. They are no different in kind from the aggressively religious. The anti-religious position is privileged in France by the formal policy of laicism. Thus this parallel privileges the already privileged.We have the same problem in the USA. Christians, who are massively privileged by reason of numbers and of strong institutions, occasionally will start to talk like victims and demand steps, like prayer in public schools or Ten Commandment monuments on courthouse lawns, that extend their already impressive privilege. The parallel in France between religion and genitals, is no different.

      • Babette Petiot

        I do not deny it. I choose this parallel purposfully, to show how people feel.

        As you say, it is not a perfect system and certainly not better than in the USA.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          The US system is certainly not perfect either!On a different social topic, racial equality, we have learned that we cannot privilege “how people feel” by turning it into policy. We could no longer tolerate segregation of lunch counters and drinking fountains because of “how (white) people feel” about sharing those accommodations with blacks.I am persisting in this exchange because it becomes increasing clear that this horrid event has the potential to serve as a signal to France to cease to make her problems worse.

      • I find her comments refreshing.

        But then I’m a libertarian pagan with naturist tendencies who has had extensive dealings with the aggressively religious and the aggressively anti-religious.

        The only time it really bothers me is when someone demands that their beliefs should control my actions and thoughts.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    In the immediacy of this tragic horror, I am naturally filled with compassion for the victims and their families, and rage at the homicidal sociopaths who did this. But, at the risk of seeming callous, I am compelled to respond to some of Petiot’s remarks.A foreign immigrant who wears the clothes she or he has worn all their lives, is not rejecting equality or fraternite. That is a construction put upon those clothes by some French eyes who see them. Therefore part of the problem is not the immigrant, but the country they entered. This attitude is reinforced officially, and is therefore in part a choice. The French government can choose to cease that reinforcement and try to repair it.This is not just a technical point. I suspect the United States has so far been safe from ISIL not just because of distance or an ocean (anyone can overcome such barriers) but because US treatment of immigrants is more flexible — not perfect, by no stretch of the imagination, but it does not water so generously the seeds of discontent that a terrorist recruiter can exploit via the Internet.This is, I realize, absolutely the wrong time to make these remarks. I remember how angry I was after 9/11 to anything that remotely sounded like “We had it coming.” But my Unitarian Universalist Pagan conscience cannot be silent when these troubling remarks are uttered on the absolute heels of the event.

    • Babette Petiot

      I was not talking about foreign immigrants, I was talking about second or third generation people who were born in France, who went to school in France for their whole lives and who, being adults, became devout muslims ans changed their outfit habits to a more muslim way.

      Most of immigrants try to blend in, actually.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        Thank you for the further information.We too have, in the US, religious people who are, as we say, “in your face” about it. We handle them by extending them the rights of expression due to any expression of opinion, and curtailing them when they cross boundaries that no one has a right to cross. Where that boundary is drawn, is a constant debate, but it does not include wearing the clothes that they see fit. Putting pressure on second- and third-generation converts about their clothes is giving a rebuff that feeds their sense of isolation in France and makes them more potential terrorism recruits.If you are familiar with The Wild Hunt you know I do not generally promote the USA approach to things as superior. I have done so intensely on this thread because it is to me a plain fact that France creates problems for itself in this area that the US manages to avoid.

  • Segomâros Widugeni

    My heart is with the people of France, the people of Lebanon, the people of Kenya, and of Syria – and of all those who suffer at the hands of Daesh. Daesh and Al Qaeda do not represent the vast majority of the world’s Muslims, who just want to get on with their lives. Daesh is a vile thing unto itself, a threat to everyone, including other Muslims.

    I am aware, however, that as Pagans and Polytheists we would be special targets should Daesh ever learn of our existence.

    I do not pretend to know what must be done, whether the emphasis should be on military attacks, intelligence work, or, more likely, some combination of these. But I think we can be reasonably certain that the persecution of innocent people will only make the problem worse.

    As spiritual people, perhaps what we can do best is to pray for the defeat of Daesh, the defeat of intolerant fundamentalism generally, the victory of our Gods, and the victory of Truth and Right.

  • Damiana

    That part part of Beirut is said to be a Hezbollah stronghold.

    Horiffic timing for the Dearborn residents who were there.

  • Eilidh Nic Sidheag

    The idea that religion is fine provided you don’t let anyone else see it reminds me uncomfortably of British attitudes to homosexuality in the early 20th century. “It’s all right as long as you don’t frighten the horses” – i.e. keep it private, hide it, don’t make us have to deal with the fact that it exists, let us pretend it doesn’t. That isn’t fraternal, or equal, or free.

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    We have a few Muslim in my little town. A few of the Muslim women wear traditional Muslim clothes. I don’t run into the often as I only go to town once a week for shopping Over the last couple of months I try to let them know that I realize that it can be particularly difficult for them to be Muslim in the United States and let them know that not everyone is against them.

    In one case, one woman was with her husband, and he expressed his frustration that some people assumed all Muslims are terrorist or pro-terrorists, when in fact most of them came here to get away from the violence in their own countries. Most the Muslims I know of here are doctors. Small, towns often have a difficult time getting doctors, because they cannot make the big money they can make in the cities. Worse, more and more doctors go into the specialities as that is where the big money is, so there tends to be a shortage of MDs and GPs, ad this is especially bad for small towns as they are the gateway doctors to the specialist.

    So anyway, this is something that I can do on my own. I am not a people person, so I only function well one on one, or a couple at a time. But this is something that I can do on my own.