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France’s shame at the Notre Dame fire shows the west still believes in society

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It’s easy to understand the grief that the French people are feeling in the wake of the devastation of Notre Dame. More puzzling is the sense of shame that the Guardian’s Paris correspondent Angelique Chrisafis highlighted in her report. “On our watch we let it burn,” she quotes an older woman in tears saying.

This sentiment was echoed in Jonathan Miller’s Spectator blog in which he wrote, “There is also a shame to this. How could this have happened? Isn’t France better than this?” Both Chrisafis and Miller have lived in France for years and are reporting from the ground. The shame they have identified seems real.

At first sight, this seems very odd. Why would anyone feel shame over an accident? To understand this, think back to reactions in South Korea to the sinking of the ferry MV Sewol in 2014: 304 passengers and crew members died, mostly students. As one newspaper commentator put it, “Our nation has run headlong toward the goal of becoming wealthy for half a century, but we turned a blind eye to the goal of being a civilised and safe society.” The Korean people viewed the tragedy as a failing of society as a whole, not any particular individual or ferry company.

This also explains the shame of the Korean community in the US after the shootings by Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech in April 2007. Seung-Hui killed 32 people and injured 17 others before committing suicide, in........

© The Guardian