After the Attacks, Paris

{With love from Paris}

Today marks exactly one week since the Friday the 13th terrorist attacks on Paris. So much has happened – pain, shock, death, confusion – the list and depth of emotions reverberating through France so acutely resonates worldwide, that for once I’m not going to try to pin it all down onto paper. I was fortunate enough to be on Fall Break in Rome, at a restaurant in the Piazza Venetia when news broke about the shootout at the Bataclan. The remaining food turned to ash in our mouths, as words I never thought I’d hear in the context of Paris flashed across our screens. The aftermath of three suicide bombers, mass shootings, and hostage crisis led to a mounting death toll of 129 souls, thousands of grieving civilians, and darkness over the City of Lights. November 13th 2015 will go down in history as the deadliest attack on France since World War II.

I returned to Paris on November 15th to eerily quiet and empty streets, though the distant sounds of sirens seemed ever-present. The country was in profound mourning; flags at half-mast and shutters drawn on every store window.

But when I asked my taxi driver if he was scared, he looked me squarely in the eyes through his rear view mirror, zipping through the deserted road, “Madame, fear is what they wanted. We will not let the terrorists win.” And his words ran true for the sangfroid attitude of every Parisian I’ve encountered in this past week. The spirit of enduring, the courage that once gave morale to La Resistance against the Nazis is once more aflame. With almost military determination, the French resumed their daily routine on Monday morning. “Life must go on. We will not live in terror,” echoed our IES program director and my host family. So when Monday morning came, I too put on a coat, tossed on a scarf, and walked to classes comme d’habitude.

Paris this week has been somber, with a static underlying tension in the air. But what I’m going to remember of this unsettling week is the outpouring of love and unity that both Paris and I felt. I’m going to remember the cocoon of a hundred Facebook messages protectively embracing me written by high school friends, college friends, ballroom dance teammates, and family. I’m going to remember the hour when we realized that French borders were closed, and my Dad told me very rationally and calmly to go to sleep in my hostel in Rome and not worry about anything, and waking up the next morning to text messages from him every half hour through the night in which he sorted all my possible affairs and tracked every news report that told me – though he never once mentioned it – that he and my mom hadn’t slept a wink all night. I’ll remember how Gamma Phi Beta put out a concerned message for Kayla and my welfare, proving once more to me that joining a sorority was the right decision and the bonds we share are so much more than the superficial stereotype the media often presents. I’m always going to treasure that feeling of closeness that I felt with everyone in my life in this week.

This sentiment of long distance solidarity quickly rose to the national level. A journalism professor, who still had his arm bandaged from shards of glass that pierced him at the Stade de France attack, told me how discovering the trend of countries around the world lighting their monuments in bleu, blanc, rouge caused the French reporters who first saw the photos to be filled with tremendous emotion at the signs of global unity for their country.

On social media, the wave of people changing their profile pictures in support of France too added to the universal sentiment that Paris was by no means left alone to deal with tragedy. Though it was soon followed by counter arguments as to why other countries victim to terrorist attacks and war had not merited international sympathy and Snapchat and Facebook filters, I would like to remind people that the sentiment of solidarity against terrorism is what brought the world together under the #jesuisParis hashtag. I watched a third wave of politically correct profile pictures with numerous flags on their photo filter along with, frankly, apologetic statuses drawing attention to the countless other countries plagued by terrorist attacks in this past year. I do not for a second want you to think that I detract from the pain and injustice done to those nations, but I feel that arguing over the political correctness of Facebook profile pictures unfortunately misses the general concept of unity against a menacing force that affects us all.

I think the reason for this outpouring global support for Paris comes not because France is a “developed western country,” as many people are arguing, but because of what it represents as a cultural hub of the world. Paris is essentially the international symbol for love and for pride in the joie de vivre. Uniting the world behind the ideals of liberté, equalité, et fraternité is something that transcends national boundaries; these broad concepts first penned in the Enlightenment movement that began in Paris apply to almost all sociopolitical ideologies worldwide.

There’s a concept and set of laws in France called Laïcité that I think speaks to the foundation of the admirable way the nation has held together, indivisible to ethnic fractions, at a time when terrorists sought to divide and destroy the Parisian population. While in the United States, citizens are often asked to identify themselves as African American, Asian, Hispanic, or Caucasian such census inquiries are actually illegal in France, particularly in the religious domain. According to Laïcité Laws, there are only two groups: a person is either a French citizen or Not French. Any further inquiries into their personal lives are forbidden and, controversially, as is any “clan-like” displays on part of citizens. While this may seem like a simple legal term, its effect on French society is far-reaching. A few days ago an American friend wrote to me, “I just hope hate isn’t picking up steam.” And I was surprised to find myself writing back without a flicker of doubt, “It isn’t.” In the wake of such a heinous attack on Paris, I find it impressive that Islamophobia has not erupted into riots on the street. Instead, there is an intelligent and, frankly, classy manner in which French people have made a point of clarifying the distinction between Muslims and extremist terrorists. They have not at any point denounced their French-Muslim citizens and that to me speaks volumes of the accepting and united culture of Parisians.

That said, it has only been a week since the Paris Attacks. It’ll be interesting to see how the city and how governments worldwide continue to react in the aftermath. In the meantime, I look forward to remaining a part of this incredible and strong city, watching it come back day-by-day to regular, uninhibited life. I hope that the global community continues to stay united in the way that we’ve seen it capable of this week. It was awe-inspiring to feel connected to people worldwide, and I only wish it wasn’t times of tragedy that brought all nations together.

Anyways, thank you for reading and for reaching out to me in this difficult time. Please continue to keep the victims and their loved ones in your thoughts, prayers, and good vibes. Vive Paris ❤

Author: Nikita Taimni

A Dubai-based blogger, I write about travel, theatre and lifestyle in the cities I explore around the world. Follow me on Instagram @nikitalyfe and follow via email if you enjoy reading my posts!

2 thoughts

  1. Good observation about the political correctness issue. More than just the cultural significance of Paris and the universality of Enlightenment ideals, the disproportionate mourning for France may also have to do with the cynical acceptance that massacres “happen all the time” in the Muslim world. The news is saturated with images of doom in those countries, so we naturally pay more attention (and feel deeper sympathy) when there’s an attack in a safer place.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another very well written piece. I don’t know how you do it but there is something about your writing that makes your descriptions very vivid and your emotions very palpable giving you the incredible ability to connect instantly with your readers.
    On reading this blog I felt that I too am a fellow Parisian, just born and living elsewhere.
    I also enjoyed the para about your Dad and thought it was particularly touching!

    Liked by 1 person

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