Monday, July 12, 2004

A Day on A French Train

The International Herald Tribune describes what happened to a woman on a commuter train north of Paris.

The woman was mistakenly identified as a Jew by six men of North African and African origin, who surrounded the victim in what at first appeared to be an attempt to steal her stroller ... One of them said, 'She's a rich kid.' And then he added, 'There are only Jews in the 16th,'" the police spokesman said. "Nothing in the name of the young woman or where she lives has any Jewish character," the spokesman added. The attackers cut the victim's clothing, slightly wounding her in the process, and cut off a lock of her hair, "as a souvenir," one of the attackers is reported to have said. After slashing the stroller, the six attackers overturned it. The baby fell to the ground and suffered a mild bruise, the police said. The men stole a credit card and E200 from the woman, before getting off the train after it pulled into Sarcelles, which is about 17.4 kilometers, or 11 miles, from Paris.

The incident is also reported in the New York Times with one omission. Here's the omission.

About 20 people saw what happened, but none came to the aid of the victim, the police said, adding that only two passengers approached afterward.

The interesting thing was that the woman was only thought to be Jewish -- and that no one came to her assistance. How to judge the bystanders? When I was thirteen, I came on a man being stabbed on dark bridge walkway by a mugger and, being too scared to do anything else, started pelting the assailant with the bottles and trash lying around in an effort to drive him away. The knifeman came after me but a thirteen year old can show a clean pair of heels and I dropped back out of range and pelted him again. He went off and I ran for the cops. No cell phones then. Years later I realized how dead I would have been if the mugger had a gun. I was stupid as only a kid could be.

In this case, there were six assailants with knives and no place to maintain standoff. Were the passengers chicken not to help her? I suspend judgement on that score. But there was one more thing to try. About ten years ago, when I could still run pretty seriously, I saw a man robbed with a knife on a road and followed the thief as he walked at a distance until I called the cops down on him. The passengers on the French train could have done the same when they got off at Sarcelles. Winston Churchill once advised:

"If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a small chance of survival. There may even be a worse case: you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves."

But first you must decide never to live as a slave.