2015 will forever be known as the year that scarred Paris with traumatic terror. First came Charlie Hebdo, which my Parisian host sincerely thought was France’s 9/11 when I studied abroad last spring. Then came Friday, Nov. 13, 2015.
Within a shockingly tight timeframe, over 120 people were murdered and more than 350 wounded in six locations in and around Paris. The most gruesome attack was at the Bataclan concert hall, where concertgoers were taken hostage and over 80 of them were murdered. A close French friend of mine was planning to go to the Eagles of Death Metal show at the Bataclan that night, but decided to stay in instead—a decision that may have saved his life.
Sadly, two of my French friends were not as lucky. Both have siblings whose friends were victims of the attacks, one in critical condition who was thought to be dead at first, and the other murdered. It was no accident that these victims were young. The Bataclan massacre was clearly aimed at a young and cosmopolitan crowd, meaning that many of us have at most six degrees of separation from victims of the attacks.
Before delving deeper into the Paris attacks, it is critical to address the gruesome attacks in Baghdad and Beirut, which have been largely ignored in the mainstream media and on social media outside of hyper-liberal circles such as Wesleyan.
To those who have pointed out that society ignores the deaths of people of color when tragedies in predominantly white and Western arenas happen, please keep fighting the good fight. However, everyone should be aware that their words can carry weight, and if they are not crafted carefully, it can appear as if one is pushing a political agenda after a tragedy that affected many lives.
It is also crucial to note that France has a well-documented history of colonization and is often seen as an Islamophobic country given its marginalization of those who live in banlieus and cités, not to mention legislation that bans headscarves in schools and public places, making France an unmistakable target. However, much of this is at the level of its federal government, and its citizens who wield only the power of a single vote should not be blamed for the actions of the French government. As for those who have changed their profile pictures to the bleu-blanc-rouge, thank you for showing your solidarity with the French people. However, please be equally aware that there are currently no Lebanese or Iraqi flags available, and that Facebook has at the very least implicitly privileged some victims of terrorism over others.
I would most likely not be addressing these issues at all if it weren’t for the hyper-awareness of the Wesleyan community. Nonetheless, the greatest ramifications of the Paris attacks lie outside of the Wesleyan community. The way French President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls have been addressing the attacks in the last few days has been very similar to the rhetoric of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney after 9/11. On the surface, this is not surprising given the trauma that the two events inflicted on both nations, but the political stakes are higher for Hollande and Valls’ Socialist Party, which will be competing in regional elections in two weeks against former President Sarkozy’s Républicans and Marine Le Pen’s ascendant far right party, Le Front Nationale (FN). For those unfamiliar with French politics, the FN is like our Tea Party on steroids. A quick Google search of the party will reveal many of its xenophobic stances, and a quick scroll will reveal former FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen’s remarks about how the Holocaust was “merely a footnote” of the second World War.
There are two immediate worries for France, one economic and one political. The political worry is precisely that of the rise of the FN, which was already establishing itself as the third main party in France before Charlie Hebdo, only to gain nationalist and Islamophobic steam in the months that followed Jan. 7. For many in the French political establishment, the attacks of Nov. 13 coupled with the ascendance of the FN could destabilize the nation’s political paradigm if Le Pen’s party is able to effectively politicize this tragedy for its own xenophobic ends.
As for the economic worry, there is already an immediate concern over one of France’s largest economic sectors, tourism. There has been a rapid increase in hotel and restaurant cancelations all over France already. Paris could end up being the epicenter of this negative economic impact, and it may take years for the city to rebound in tourism after these attacks. As a former resident of the city, I know that Parisians will be resilient after atrocities, whether they be Charlie Hebdo or the Bataclan, and hopefully tourists will show the same resilience that they did in New York after 9/11.
Perhaps the most ironic aspect of these attacks is that the notion of terrorism comes from France itself and the French Revolution. Their national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” is a response to such terrorism. Furthermore, the irony of “La Marseillaise” is that it is also a response to the monarchies surrounding France who looked to capitalize on the nascent republic in the aftermath of the revolution, with one line that speaks of the throats of children being cut by foreign invaders and how the French will respond by arming themselves and watering their furrows with impure blood. Ironically, it is this very country that was the victim of vengeance coming from the Islamic State. The nation that originally used terror against internal enemies is now one of its most prominent and shocking victims.
Militarily, it remains to be seen whether Article 5 of the NATO’s Washington Treaty, which states that an attack on one NATO country is considered an attack on all, will be enacted. If Hollande’s comments on how these attacks are an act of war is any indication, France and potentially the United States could be entering a more intense and prolonged conflict with ISIS that will most certainly be a war if what we are currently engaged in isn’t already. As this op-ed is being written, France has been relentlessly bombing ISIS targets in Syria and is engaged in around 150 raids.
As important as it is to keep our solidarity with Baghdad, Beirut, and places like Yemen that face continuous terrorist attacks, the Paris attacks hit home for me. This city was my home for over four months. I lived, went to school, and worked two jobs in Paris while growing tremendously on my own and with my French friends. I even wonder if I would be able to write this article if my friend had changed his mind and gone to the Bataclan that night. Nonetheless, we must confront these atrocities. Terrorism is our generation’s World War. We have grown up with terrorism, and we must confront it together in collective action that cannot only be military in nature. Marchons, marchons.
Lahut is a member of the Class of 2017.