Arts

Illustration: Kim Wiens.

Chapter. 6: Paris attacks

At 10:30 p.m. on the night of Friday, Nov. 13, my friends and I were settling down in our hostel in Rome as many of us awaited an early flight back to Paris the next morning.

As we lay down to sleep, phones in hands, we looked over the pictures we’d taken that day along with the news we had missed back home in our absence.

“There’s been a shooting,” one of my friends calmly stated, staring at her phone in disbelief. Over the next 72 hours none of us would get much sleep.

As the news began to pour in from Paris, a sense of unease quickly settled over us. It wasn’t long before my ears began to ring, and from the cacophony of voices and broadcasts, all I could manage to filter through the noise were individual words. It began with “suicide bombing”, “execution”, and “terrorism”, later followed by “closed borders”, and the inevitable—“ISIS”.

As we collected the latest from different media outlets, the total number of victims continued to grow. By midnight the number had surpassed the 120-person mark, and thoughts of sleep had escaped us.

We soon learned the location of the shooting was mere metres across the street from several of our apartments. Just the week prior, many of us had come together to celebrate a birthday only a few steps away from the Bataclan theatre. The subsequent hours were spent awaiting messages of assurance from friends in the affected area.

Over the next few days we reluctantly filtered back into Paris. I arrived on Monday, Nov. 16 to a very different atmosphere than the one I left. There was a still hush engulfing the usual bustling City of Lights.

As I rode the metro toward the memorial to pay my respects, I was very aware of the people dressed entirely in black and the unusual silence that was punctuated every few minutes by the cool mechanical voice over the intercom announcing numerous closures throughout the city.

Emblazoned across the memorial in La Republique Square were the words “MÊME PAS PEUR” or “not afraid”. These words I can believe. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year, the French people rallied together defiantly against this kind of violence.

However, I remain terrified.

In my lifetime, I have seen the world react to a large-scale terrorist attack on Western soil. It is the aftermath of these events that has me paralysed.

While fear can, in time, be rectified, anger can drive people to momentary irrationality, and often the repercussion of such actions is permanent. In a matter of three days, the largest migrant camp in Paris has been set aflame, mosques have been burnt down at home in Canada, and islamophobic attacks have increased exponentially worldwide.

There is no such thing as complete safety. As I proceeded to have my bag searched at each store I entered on my way back home, I told myself that this soon shall pass. Eventually the heightened security and the passing looks of suspicion will fade. It’s simply impossible to protect yourself against every imaginable probability.

However, what we can protect ourselves against is intolerance. As I write to you in Paris today, several members of my predominantly Muslim family continue to live in Syria, others in Beirut. These attacks in Paris are symbolic of the terrors that refugees across the Middle East and Northern Africa are attempting to flee every day.

So, while the world mourns the loss of hundreds of innocent lives to a senseless attack on humanity, remember this—it is the values of “liberty, equality and fraternity” that France upholds so highly that we stand to lose most in the aftermath of these events. Let us react bravely and calmly in the face of hysteria, and let the past show us that the strongest approach to terrorism is a united one.