Though I am not American and don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, events of the recent past have made me consider what it could mean to Europeans and even more importantly, to Anglo-French relations in the 21st century. I didn’t change my Facbook picture to the French flag as it achieved and will achieve nothing. Instead, I decided to wait until today to have my say.
The Pen is Mightier than the Sword – Edward Bulwer-Lytton
There has often been no love lost between Britain and France – for nearly 1000 years we have been at each other’s throats. Since William, Duke of Normandy (also known as William the Bastard and William The Conqueror) first crossed the channel and took the crown of England from the Saxons, we have had a love-hate relationship. The battles and conflicts that followed the conquest and led to the Hundred Years War, The Franco-Scots alliances, The Italian Wars, colonising the new world, the deep divisions of the Reformation, The American War of Independence, The Napoleonic Wars – the list goes on.
Yet we have also been allies a great many times too, and mostly from the 20th century when the Entente Cordiale began – the treaties that saw new respect and friendship, understanding and *gasp* maybe even admiration. Two World Wars, Suez and eventually the beginnings of what is now the European Union, though many do not know that it was France under De Gaulle that opposed Britain’s entry into the Common Market. “We hate the French and the French hate us” is a much believed trope, but it is not true any more, if it ever was.
The events in Paris demonstrated the mutual respect that has always been there. At football grounds all around the country, fans did us proud in singing La Marseillaise. The England v France international friendly that took place mere days after the attacks (and had been scheduled for months) went ahead. Fans, once again, acted impeccably.
Even satire site NewsThump got in on the act. Often scathing of anything and everything, the writers put up one of the most tongue in cheek yet heartfelt articles ever written in jest but with a serious message.
The headline: No One Picks on France Except Us! Says Britain. (please do go ahead and read it).
And it’s like that. The news so often focuses on the negatives, the protests against refugees that we rarely see these moments of solidarity – until now. If it isn’t England fans singing La Marseillaise and French fans singing God Save The Queen, it’s German football fans holding up signs to cameras that say “Refugees Welcome”.
The message is clear – hate mongers, oppressors, extremists can never win. Those who oppose free speech, those who would seek to silence their critics, those who kill in the name of protecting their own beliefs, those who use violence as a first resort will never win. Dictators will not win. They may make gains in the short term but in the end, human decency wins out.
What am I thankful for? That human decency will always win out in the end.