The terrorist attacks of 13 November in Paris have triggered much emotion in Kabul. As early as the Saturday morning, numerous personalities contacted the Embassy to express their solidarity and a lengthy procession of visitors started, which would last around two weeks.
The striking thing about this parade was that it included important government officials, former President Karzai, the head of the executive, ministers, as well as unknown people who had simply come to share our grief: from representatives of the Turkmen community wearing their long-sleeved chapan, made famous throughout the world by President Karzai, to Westernized junior executives, a whole cross-section of Afghanistan walked through the rooms of the residence. Others, who could not come, sent messages or simply expressed themselves in the Facebook pages of the Embassy.
That emotion was multi-faceted. Afghans generally have a positive image of France, due to our long-standing relations, but also to the memory of the French Doctors who came to assist them during their struggle against the Soviet invasion. Of the statements by those familiar with Paris, I chose the following one written (in French) by a former grant student: "Through the generosity of the French people, I spent two of the most rewarding years of my life in Paris and consider it as my second home. I will be forever grateful for the hospitality and kindness extended to me by the Parisians during my studies as a grant student. I hope, and am convinced, that Paris will recover quickly. France is strong and will stand up to represent, once again and with full pride, the best of humanity." ». Many Afghans, even among those who have no particular links with us, felt all the more affected as they are the victims of terrorism themselves and therefore understand the pain inflicted.
When the Director of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies (AISS) suggested organizing a Sufi music concert as a tribute to the victims and their families, I nevertheless hesitated, as we had already brought the French community together for an evening reception which had gathered an unusual number of participants. Was a concert the appropriate type of event? After discussing it briefly at the Embassy, we finally decided to accept this proposal. This time, the concert would enable us to meet all the Afghans who had expressed themselves so forcefully in recent days and to involve our colleagues as well as the Ambassadors of the countries that had lost nationals in the attacks: the President of the French Republic, in his speech to the Congress, had stated that 19 nationalities were affected. I knew the musicians, I had already heard them play at a seminar organized by the AISS in Herat, and I knew that they would succeed in making the concert a time for reflection and remembrance.
Finally, the singer who directed this small music group intended to draw inspiration from the great Sufi poet Rumi. Rumi, often seen as a mystic Turk, because he is buried in Konya and inspired the famous whirling Dervishes, was in fact born north of present-day Afghanistan in the Balkh oasis where one can still see the small madrasa in which his father taught before fleeing the armies of Genghis Khan. His writings are a perfect symbol of the pain of separation and death. His most famous poem refers to the Ney flute played by our musician and made from a reed: "1. Listen to this reed as it is grieving; it tells the story of our separations. 2. ’Since I was severed from the bed of reeds, in my cry men and women have lamented." (Translated by Alan Williams, from "Rumi: Spiritual Verses, The First Book of the Masnavi-ye Ma’navi," London: Penguin, 2006.)
So the concert took place, involving numerous participants, though at such short notice. When he did not play his Ney, the musician sang poems by Rumi. Many of his poems deal with pain: He was the candle which brought light among us/But where has he gone, where, without us, where?/My heart trembles like a leaf, all day long/But where has he gone into the night, where?/Go to the garden, ask the gardeners:/Where has the slender stem gone, where?/Go to the terrace and ask the keeper:/Where has this peerless king gone, where? Like one possessed, I wander in the desert/Seeking the gazelle, where is it, where?/I have cried so much that two rivers flow from my eyes/Where is the pearl to be found in this ocean, where? (Translated by the translator of this blog).
But Rumi is also the poet of hope: "Who said that the eternally alive one has died?/Who said that the sun of hope has died?/The enemy of that sun came on the roof,/He closed his eyes, and said that the sun is dead." (Translation from "Rumi Biography and Message", by Cihan Okuyucu, Işık Yayıncılık Ticaret , 22 April 2014). And the poet of love: "Know that it is the waves of love which make the wheel of the heavens turn;/without Love, the world would be inanimate." (Masnavi V: 3853-59). (Translation from "Rumi and Sufism," by Eva de Vitray-Meyerivitch, 1987, p. 102)
With these songs and poems, our Afghan friends did not claim to mitigate the horror and the pain. They just wanted to send us a message.