Few events have set the ultimate insignificance of sport in quite such sharp relief as the terror attacks which unfolded in Paris on Friday night. The unjustifiable slaughter of 129 innocent victims could not help but impress upon a rational observer a chilling reminder of how fragile human life and, indeed, civilization is.
The fact that the international friendly fixture played between France and Germany at the Stade de France was a target of the attacks offers a fitting illustration of this point. Newspapers hardly mentioned the fact that the hosts triumphed 2-0, instead focusing on how the evening’s death toll would have been far higher had the attackers succeeded in gaining entry to the stadium before detonating their bombing vests.
Tragically, the France midfielder, Lassana Diarra, who played 80 minutes of the match against Germany, confirmed that his cousin was killed during the attacks. His teammate, Antoine Griezmann, meanwhile, revealed that his sister only narrowly managed to escape the Bataclan concert hall — the scene of more than 100 deaths on Friday — with her life.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, it seemed to go without saying that France’s friendly fixture against England in London on Tuesday evening would be called off.
Aside from the obvious security fears such an event would raise, the idea of the French national side being called on to play a football match just days after the most serious attack on their homeland since World War II felt inappropriate — a trivial intrusion upon a state in mourning.
Yet, it was the French Football Association who pushed for the fixture to go ahead, taking the bold view that to cancel the friendly would be to yield to the interests of the bombers.
After all, the Oxford English Dictionary defines terrorism as “the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” By not playing on Tuesday, France would be bowing down to the demands of an unelected, nihilistic, and fundamentally inhumane group of mass murderers.
That was never going to be an option for a state steeped in the progressive traditions of liberal democracy and founded on the ideologies of liberté, égalité, fraternité.
The jihadists targeted a rock concert, a football match, and a selection of crowded cafes and restaurants in Paris not only to maximize the number of causalities that their attack would yield, but also to make us all feel more vulnerable going about our everyday lives. Sport, music, and dining have been core activities in the western social tradition, dating back as far as classical antiquity; by targeting these events, the Paris attackers launched an assault on a way of life, on western civilization itself.
It is for this reason that the strongest act of defiance we can offer when faced with their barbarism is to go on living the way that we did before the Paris attacks, never to bend, never to yield to the demands placed on us by their call to institute a prehistoric world order.
The western way of life has survived far greater threats than that posed by Islamic State and it will endure long after the rebel group is wiped out. Until then, we must honor the Paris dead by simply living the way that we have always done, and Tuesday evening’s fixture in Wembley will stand as a powerful symbol of our collective refusal to be frightened by the cowardice of murderers.
[Photo by Matthias Hangst / Getty Images]