Guest Column: Freedom and Peace

We French are prone to forget that, not so long ago, we experienced the same kind of violence that Middle Easterners must deal with today. The younger generations tend to suffer most from this sort of amnesia. Because they witness manslaughter and terrorist attacks daily on television, they come to believe that these barbaric acts reveal the nature of all Middle Eastern people. The situation is worsened by the fact that it isn’t only the youth who will tell you that “dark-skinned” people are born to fight each other.

A closer look at the history of France, however, reveals that we too suffered many years of chaos and bloodshed. Before the final regime change, much of the 19th century consisted of riots, civil wars, revolts, and devastating dictatorships for the French. This period of turmoil included revolutions in 1789, 1830, and 1848; two waves of terror in 1793 and 1814; and a civil insurrection in 1871. In addition, France survived two empires (Napoleon I and Napoleon III), three monarchs (Louis XVIII, Charles X, and Louis-Philippe), two occupations by foreign armies as a result of the Napoleonic wars, and three republican governments.

Needless to say, our current democracy was not implemented overnight. For all its culture and wealth, it took ages for France to escape the monarchical system; either the elite refused to delegate powers or the people were unprepared to handle those powers. Regardless, there was too much greed and irrational fear rather than pure idealism and grand vision. Nowadays, the unsure steps we took to political maturity are overlooked, and the past mistakes of both rulers and citizens have since been forgiven.

Take for example the famous Sacre Coeur basilica in Montmartre, built as a sign of reconciliation for a once torn and dreadfully divided nation. Today, crowds are drawn to the church for its panoramic views over Paris and for its dedication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. They rarely visit the basilica for its historical significance that marks the terrible incident that took place there in 1871. During that year the peasants, with cannon taken from the Prussians, shot and killed the commanders of the French national guard and rebelled against the French government. When the Paris Commune was finally installed after the insurrection, the basilica was erected on the spot where the revolution began as a kind of reparation for the peasants’ uprising against their own officials.

Past events like this have taught us that freedom and peace are best achieved through empathy, patience, and commitment. Hindsight has granted us the foundation and keys needed to understand our present world. In the process, we have healed our internal breaches and reinstituted unity among our citizens. It is now in the hands of others to continue on the same path.


  • Patricia Jarnier

    Patricia Jarnier is a French journalist and art critic. She writes from Paris.

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