Paris is no stranger to terror attacks. In recent memory we have had the awful events of the “Charlie Hebdo Shooting” and the “Paris Attacks” which included the horrendous massacre at the Bataclan. Images of these terrorist acts were broadcast live around the world and shared on social media. Instantly, we were reminded of a movement that wanted to disrupt the order of things. To create fear and panic. To turn our world upside down. And in turn, the perpetrators use the same digital media to sell their religious crusade to anyone vulnerable or impressionable or disturbed or deluded enough to care.
In the 1890s, a very different revolutionary movement, with different aims was trying to turn the world upside down. Their crusade also garnered a following to the disaffected who were attracted to a secular crusade against the bourgeios establishment. Their deeds also created panic in Paris.
On December 9 1893, Auguste Vaillant threw an explosive device from the public gallery in the French Chamber of Deputies. The “infernal machine” didn’t kill anyone in the chamber, but it did slightly injure a number of deputies. The event was an international sensation.The French Chamber of Deputies, like the governments of today after an act of terror, quickly passed new legislation to suppress the nascent Anarchist movement. “The Paris Outrage” and the trial of Vaillant that followed was eagerly followed by the public all over the world, including Australia, by the only means of mass communication available at the time – newspapers.
Auguste Vaillant was executed in a Parisian public square on February 5 1894.
His last, very loud words, before the guillotine separated his head from his body were, “Death to the Bourgeoisie! Long live Anarchy!”
One week later, in an act to avenge Vaillant, the French anarchist and serial bomber Emile Henry blew up the Cafe Teminus at the Gare Saint-Lazare, killing one person and wounding another twenty. Asked to explain his act of terrorism on innocent Parisians, he replied “there are no innocent bourgeois.” The “head of the youthful Anarchist rolled into the executioners basket” on May 21 1894.
Emile Henry, like Vaillant had a short lived celebrity. But very much like the perpetrators of contemporary acts of terror in Western cities, their notoriety reached a global scale.
Meanwhile, in Australia, a remarkable little story was published in the The Colac Herald, a small Victorian newspaper, on May 29, 1894. I don’t know the author and I don’t know if it was published earlier in another publication. But it demands to be read. It is precociously modern, the satire is biting and it arrives at a newly discovered universal conclusion – SPORT is the great deradicaliser and you can find the ultimate expression of this phenomenon in football and the football fan.
TRAGEDY IN ONE ACT. A YOUTHFUL DYNAMITER AT FOOTSCRAY.
Everybody in Footscray makes love. Couples get married in their teens and young ladies are on the shelf at 21. A local Kinsman does a roaring trade. Six weddings in four weeks is a dull month. Two and three a week is the average. Cottages let at 2s 6d per week, and families of two are to be found in every street, except on Saturday afternoons, when they barrack for the tri-coloured footballers. They never quarrel. The local police records do not show a wife-beating case for 12 months. The last one, by the way, (showed 12 months for the eating case.) It is a happier suburb than Salt Lake City. The Salt Water River walls them off from the corruption of Melbourne and the strictures of Sir John Madden. Shiels’ Divorce Act was never framed for Footscray. But happy couples are not always able to control circumstances, as the events of the last few days testify.
The peace of the domestic circle of a local family has been upset in a curious fashion by the strange conduct of a son aged 12. Cupid fired his brain, and he fell in love with a schoolmate, aged 11, who lived in the same street. The sweethearts had a chequered career. Cupid would have pleased the parents better if he had minded his own business; but they forgot the true mission of Cupid. The parental veto squelched the courtship – the lovers meet no more. But within the breast of young Romeo raged a desire for a terrible revenge. He made a desperate resolve. His father was illiterate. His sister read the newspapers to her father at night, and the boy diligently studied his home lessons. But when the daughter read the story of the deeds and execution of the French bomb thrower Vaillant, the youngster pricked up his ears.
The narrative pleased him. He became a disciple of the Anarchist in a single second-he gave himself up, body and soul, to the fiendish work of Anarchy. The bomb throwing tickled his fancy; out of the destructiveness of the dynamite he evolved a plan by which his disappointment would be sweetly revenged. His father was to suffer.
A few days ago his pennies went in crackers. He was resolved to honor Guy Fawkes in a most dramatic fashion. He bought a dozen packages and tore them open. He separated the packages into two lots. He was to use half to-day and half to-morrow. He put the one half away in his school bag, and the other half he laid on the floor of his parents’ bedroom. He applied a match, and bang went the powder. The flames caught his mother’s dress, burnt a quilt, and smashed the mirror, but the explosion quickly aroused the household, and the fire was extinguished. That night the young Romeo passed a mill-stone in his life. His father gave him half-an-hour of his time. He will never forget the birching. Like Mark Twain’s Jim Woolf, he will find it difficult to sit down for many weeks to come. But the lesson will do good. The incipient anarchy has been crushed out of the youth’s mind, perhaps forever. If ever again he inclines to the doctrine of Vaillant and Henry he will act with tongue, and not with bomb. He will become a disciple of Count Tolstoi-a philosophical Anarchist, a thinker, not a doer. Valiant’s heroism will have no fascination for him, neither presumably will the charms of his sweet heart, or the promptings of Cupid, he will become instead a barracker, and consecrate his life to the worship of the God of Football.
The panacea for radical revolutionaries in the late 19th century can now be equally applied to the youthful religious extremists of the 21st century.
During the 2010 World Cup, Islamic militants in Somalia executed two football fans in cold blood. The crime: watching Nigeria versus Argentina on television in their house. Another 10 people were arrested. The following night 30 more people were arrested as they watched Australia versus Germany.
A spokesman for Hizbul Islam made the following statement: “We are warning all the youth of Somalia not to dare watch these World Cup matches. It is a waste of money and time and they will not benefit anything or get any experience by watching mad men jumping up and down.”
The power of sport, and football in particular (regardless of code), as The Great Deradicaliser has not gone unnoticed by the men who are truly mad.
*Feature illustration is from the front page of Le Petit Journal December 23 1893, depicting Vaillant’s attack in the Chamber of Deputies. On June 24 1894, the Italian anarchist, Sante Geronimo Caserio avenged Vaillant and Henry by fatally stabbing the President of France, Marie François Sadi Carnot at a public banquet in Lyon. Caserio’s head rolled off the guillotine block on August 16 1894.