Saturday 1 October 2016

Silence and song as President Higgins stands with France

Published 17/11/2015 | 02:30

President Michael D Higgins pictured with The French Ambassador to Ireland H E Jean-Pierre Thebault, Shaykh Muhammad Umar Al-Qadri, Imam of Blanchardstown Mosque and CEO of the Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council and Ali Al Saleh, Imam Miltown Mosque, during the minutes silence outside The French Embassy on Dublins Merrion Square, for the victims of the Paris terrorist attack. Picture Credit Frank Mc Grath
President Michael D Higgins pictured with The French Ambassador to Ireland H E Jean-Pierre Thebault, Shaykh Muhammad Umar Al-Qadri, Imam of Blanchardstown Mosque and CEO of the Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council and Ali Al Saleh, Imam Miltown Mosque, during the minutes silence outside The French Embassy on Dublins Merrion Square, for the victims of the Paris terrorist attack. Picture Credit Frank Mc Grath

As a resolute chorus of 'La Marseillaise' drifted across Merrion Square, there were tears in the eyes of some of the crowd assembled outside the French embassy.

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Nor was it only the citizens of France who were visibly moved. For it's an anthem which so many Irish associate with the excitement and camaraderie of big sporting occasions involving the boys in green taking on Les Bleus in soccer and rugby. It is many people's favourite national anthem of another country - all swagger and swing.

But since darkness fell upon the City of Light on Friday night, 'La Marseillaise' has become a half-lament for the dead as well as a ringing reaffirmation of solidarity and defiance. It was sung by football fans exiting Stade de France just after a failed attempt by terrorists to visit carnage upon the stadium. It was sung yesterday by the entire 900-strong French parliament after president Hollande concluded his speech on the attacks.

It was sung on the steps of the French embassy in Dublin yesterday, with ambassador Jean-Pierre Thébault leading the tribute as he stood with President Michael D Higgins and two imams.

And it lifted the sombre mood. About ten minutes before noon, the imam of the Al-Mustafa Mosque in Blanchardstown, Shaykh Dr Muhammad Umar Al-Qadri, arrived at the embassy carrying a wreath which he set down amid floral tributes and notes. He was joined by founder of the Islamic Centre in Milltown, Dr Ali al-Saleh.

As noon struck, silence fell and heads bowed, before 'La Marseillaise' rang out from the many French present. Among them was Maeve Sombstay from Lyons, who lives in Dublin. "I am half-Irish, half-French," she said. "My family live in Paris, but everybody is fine. It was a horrible 24 hours. So I am here today to express my support as best that I can."

The President and his wife Sabina then went into the embassy to sign the book of condolence. Seated at a table decorated with a single white rose, he wrote, "I gcomhbhrón le muintir na Fráince. With the greatest sympathy to the people of France and in solidarity with the values of humanity - freedom, diversity and life".

Sabina simply inscribed: "Peace and Love"

Afterwards, President Higgins said,"I think it is very important at this time as well that we do not just indicate our solidarity in favour of those values, but it is very important that we renew our resolution not to fall into the fear or insecurities or divisions or suspicions that it is the intention of terrorism to create." The ambassador wanted to express his thanks for the support shown by Irish people since the attacks.

"Many have relatives that they don't know their whereabouts still, and the fact that the French community was surrounded by so many thousands of expressions of solidarity is very deeply comforting."

And the word 'solidarity' was also invoked by Dr Al-Qadri. "As Muslims it is important that we condemn these attacks and that we show solidarity to the victims. These criminals, terrorists want to divide us; their aim is to divide the communities. We will not let them succeed with their evil aim," he said.

For now, all is harmony.

Irish Independent

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