It is the 3rd century AD and the Roman Empire has extended its domain to Gaul and currently occupies part of Paris.
In another part of the town, a troublesome Christian evangelist refuses to submit to Roman power, and continues to preach the message of a Palestinian called Jesus who was killed by the Romans in Jerusalem 300 years ago.
The evangelist is called Dionysius and has for assistants two equally dogged evangelists named Rusticus and Eleutherius. Because the three have refused to renounce their strange faith and embrace Roman gods, they are sentenced to death by decapitation — to have their heads removed from their shoulders.
The two followers die, but Dionysius is able to defy, not only the Romans, but also the laws of physics and biology. As soon as his head is cut off, he picks it up and holds it in his hands and starts walking a distance of some nine kilometres, all the time preaching some sermon or other. Finally, he falls and his faithful congregation bury him.
The venue of the execution is what is called Montmartre today, to the north of Paris, and the place of Dionysius’s burial is called Saint Denis, and that’s where is found the Basilica named after that famous martyr, who was also the first Bishop of Paris.
Now, all faiths thrive on myths, each one of them more fantastical than the one you heard last. The problem comes when contending myths clash, conversations become impossible and military might is brought into the argument.
The young men and women who attacked Paris last week and ended up dying in Saint Denis are driven by their own set of myths, which tell them that when they blow themselves up and die they do not actually die, but they get translated to heaven where the pleasures they have been denied in this cruel world will be aplenty — and for free.
The irony woven into the clash of these myths in our time is that a very few individuals — situated in the midst of masses of people who may have very little to do with the cacophonous and incomprehensible argument — may determine the fates of these victimised majorities more than once or twice.
So that, for instance, the various strands of sectarian strife in the Middle East and the Levant dish up hundreds of thousands of refugees who, having trudged and slogged thousands of miles, wash up on the shores and walls of Europe seeking safety, and Europe, nagged by some residual conscience, must consider the consequences of letting in these throngs of desperate people who may, however, count among their numbers those who seek entry as an opportunity to harm those who receive and feed them.
Racists, purists and sundry bigots need no encouragement when it comes to xenophobia, and the French police on the streets will be only too happy to whisk away people who “look like” Arabs, Africans and terrorists.
As a young man frequently in Paris and Marseille, I found that France was the only place I had to carry my passport with me all the time, simply because I “looked like” an African.
I expect that will worsen now because they have been handed an unassailable justification. Attacking the French as they do very French things, like eating out in their cafes and restaurants and on their terraces? Shooting and killing concertgoers? Trying to disrupt a soccer match in which “les Bleus” are actually beating the dreaded German Mannschaft? Who dare do that?
The validity of the Schengen visa that nowadays allows almost unhindered access to most European countries is now being interrogated. If the visa loses its currency, and the French re-establish their own, God help those who will want to apply for it.
As for those who are trying to run away from the rock-and hard-place dilemma of the Assad-ISIS equation, they may find that what ISIS has managed to do is to ensure that they will not be received in Europe, and that their lot is with a region that seems to have no limit to the destruction it wills on itself.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an aocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: email@example.com
SOURCE: THE EAST AFRICAN