Staying strong after the Paris attacks

Image: Huriyah Quadri

[Aimone Sharif | Sports Manager]

As France and its citizens bowed their heads for the loss of lives and terror that overshadowed their spirit; the world joined them in solidarity by participating in three minutes of silence to commemorate those gone and the families affected. For French students everywhere, going back to studying was the last thing on their minds.

On Friday 13th November, Paris underwent the worst attacks since World War II, with a death total of 130 and an additional 352 recorded injuries in the six simultaneous attacks around the capital. The first was noticed through television, as France was enjoying a friendly football match with Germany when an explosion disrupted the stadium. The following attacks spread to five other locations in the heart of the city.

Security tightened across France, especially in the capital. Schools and universities were closed for Saturday but reopened the following Monday. Paris decided to not live in fear but actively move forward with perseverance and courage instead.

Laetitia de Coudenhove, a French, third year medical student in Paris explains how she felt going back to university: “I was terrified at first, because my university is so big and an easy target for any attacks.” Nevertheless, she was pleasantly surprised to see that no change of behaviour was made towards the Muslims around her and explained that everyone realised that “real Muslims do not promote violence and do not take lives for the sake of it.”

“There is absolutely no tension towards Muslims, we clearly know that those terrorists’ acts are completely opposite to what Muslims and Christians believe in: life and union between men,” explains Anne-Marie Francois, also a third year medical student at Paris Descartes University. She goes on by saying that after the attacks she noticed two reactions: people were either shocked by what had happened, or they refused to give in and change their way of life. For them, giving in to fear means ceasing to live.

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Image: Paul Mortimore

The attacks led to serious political debates led by the President Francois Hollande. France shut its borders, doubled the amount of police and security in and around the capital and is still debating on the reinstallation of obligatory military service at the age of 18. On 16th November, Hollande defiantly declared:

“Terrorism will not destroy the French Republic because the Republic will destroy it” (Le Monde).

Following the Paris events, Europe seemed to be on edge as several football matches were cancelled, most notably Germany versus the Netherlands, as a bomb alert was made. Brussels shut down its public transportation following a security lockdown after threat levels were raised in Belgium. Security tightened across the continent as Gatwick was evacuated for more than seven hours on that Saturday and the Copenhagen airport was evacuated on 18th November, both cases linked to suspicious behaviour and abandoned items. Chances were not taken if it involved the safety of citizens.

The deadliest of the six attacks was at the Bataclan concert hall, where young adults, students, and teenagers were watching the American rock band Eagles of Death Metal perform live. The attack began at 9.49pm, led by two gunmen and a woman, lasting approximately two hours with 89 people killed on the spot and more than 100 injured.

“Both of my parents work in the music industry and they knew three people that were killed on that deadly night,” explains Camille Vandepoorter, a student at University of Bath. Camille used to live in Paris but moved to study in London and is now doing a work placement in Spain. She was in the United States at the time of the attack, she continues:

“In the US the news was very terror-oriented and focused on panic so it scared me. But I went online to check the English news and it reassured me because they were braver and more defiant than the US. They had France’s back.”

Being abroad gave her insight to various countries’ reactions. Hearing the dreadful news in an American taxi, she tried reaching her family, who answered after several hours to confirm they were safe.

“Having to check that friends and family are alive is something I wish on nobody,” she says after she spent nearly a day reaching out to her loved ones and making sure they were safe.

“Am I proud to be French? Yes, no matter what I am. France’s police were quick to handle the situation but I was also so proud of some other countries. Like the UK was so supportive of France and the general attitude of the country,” she said.

Her friends and family living in Paris were still very scared and generally felt unsafe, but as time passed and they realised the security was there to stay, they eased up.

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Image: Paul Mortimore

In the heart of London, the primary school Lycee Francais Charles de Gaulle is filled with students from Paris. Going back to studying was hard and challenging for students but also for teachers, who have to be role models in such situations. Mr Poggi, a German teacher at the school, explained that security was reinforced on Sunday and Monday on students’ arrival to help calm any tension felt by students and teachers alike. Although he expressed a feeling of sadness and devastation towards the attacks, he couldn’t show it in front of his pupils. He said he needed to keep them motivated and concentrated on their studies.

“The attacks were a brutal shock and personally hit me, but in the sense of feeling insecure, I felt safe and so did the students due to security provided for us,” he said.

For other students, even if they are not affiliated with France in any sort of way, the horrific attacks created a feeling of insecurity. Georgia Porter, a student at the University of Hertfordshire says she felt scared hearing the news because “only the English channel separates us and France!” She described her fear of taking the train or tube at night by herself, as they are easy targets: “When I come back late from a seminar or a late activity, I really don’t like walking by myself, it doesn’t really feel safe.” Nevertheless she admits that she feels safe at the University.

The aftermath of the attacks led to Paris turning its lights off as a sign of mourning; the world simultaneously switched tricoloured lights on at landmarks and layered the French flag over Facebook photos in solidarity. The University of Hertfordshire enabled students to pay respect to the victims of Paris and Beirut by opening up a prayer vigil open to everyone, regardless of their faith, further demonstrating that we stand united.

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Staying strong after the Paris attacks