By Emma Buchman
Three weeks ago, on Nov. 13, eight terrorists attacked the city of Paris. 130 people are dead and 352 were injured, 99 of them in critical condition. Most of them were French, but some are believed to be Britons and Belgians as well. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took responsibility for the attacks as a retaliation against French drone strikes on Syria, naming France as a “top target” according to The Guardian. In his address on Saturday, Nov. 14, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron started off by saying that these attacks were the worst that France has had since WWII and the worst terror attacks that Europe has seen in over a decade. To say that I am in shock would be an understatement. France is still healing from the wounds left by the attack on “Charlie Hebdo” in January and on the kosher grocery market and the paper making facility. Now they are forced to confront a situation with a far more devastating number of casualties. Both Charlie Hebdo and the attacks on Nov. 13 strike close to the heart of French culture. Attacking Charlie Hebdo was an attack on the freedom of the press, a right that is so dear to the French that even Americans cannot truly grasp its importance to them.
In Friday’s attacks, I believe ISIS wanted to get even more personal. They went after places that they knew people would be on a Friday night. More importantly, they went where they knew that people would feel safe. Restaurants, a theater, a soccer stadium; these are all places that are intimately tied with French culture. As Cameron mentioned in his speech, “[The victims] were not seeking to harm anyone; they were simply going about their way of life. Our way of life.” They wanted Paris and the rest of France to suffer. They wanted to force people to second guess going to a café for a coffee or grabbing dinner with a friend at the local bar. In his address on the Nov. 13 attacks that Friday night, President Barack Obama encapsulated my own beliefs on what this event means. He said, “This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.” Whether it’s an American journalist, a British taxi driver, a Jordanian pilot, a Russian plane passenger, or a French civilian, we are all in this together. Terror attacks can happen anywhere and everywhere, whether it is in Paris, Beirut, or Baghdad. All are tragic and affected innocent human lives. Let’s not belittle one over the other.
We also cannot let our anger and fear of what has happened get in the way of continuing to help those in need of it. One of the terrorists was found with a Syrian passport. The Greek government claims that he came through Greece as a refugee. This was always going to be a possibility with a crisis of this scale. This may be more prevalent to the United Kingdom where there are multiple drives by both civilians and celebrities to take in more refugees, but while we will have to be more cautious, this attack should not hinder the U.K. from taking in refugees, and it should not prevent the U.S. from assisting them. If anything, it should make us more sympathetic to their pain and make us even more willing to help them as safely as we can.
I was moved by French President Francois Hollande’s speech immediately after the attacks and with the responses of both the U.S. and British governments. All three heads of state for these nations are unpopular in some respects and hugely detested in others. However, at present, they are in charge. I believe that they are capable and compassionate, but they will also need all the help that they can get from colleagues of all parties. They can stand together with France all that they want, but they have to stand with their own if they are going to make anything happen.
This is a sensitive subject, and anyone has the right to disagree with anything that I have said. As someone who has several close connections with France, this is how I am choosing to show my support and how I am choosing to mourn. Looking to the future, I can only take words from more powerful men. As Cameron said, “My message to the French people is simple: Nous sommes solidaires avec vous. Nous sommes tous ensembles. [We stand united with you. We are all together.]” Then, as Obama said, “Those who think that they can terrorize the people of France, or the values that they stand for, are wrong.”
Note: I wrote this article a day or two after the attacks, but we were unable to publish it in a timely manner. I have updated it accordingly and hope that its late release date will not be seen as repetitive, but rather as a reminder that these sorts of things cannot be forgotten once they’re taken off the front page.
Traveling has many companions, and one of them is risk. No matter how remote the possibility, there is a chance that you will be inadvertently putting yourself in harm’s way when you travel. Ever since the horrific attacks in Paris, there has been more tension not only among my colleagues but also across the United Kingdom, concerning our safety.
The people from the Global Education Office have done a fantastic job keeping in touch with those of us studying abroad and making sure that they do everything they can to ensure our safety. My program leaders have cracked down on the rule of informing them whenever we travel outside of London and keep us regularly informed of terror alerts. Though there has not appeared to be any increased security personnel roaming the streets, everyone always seems to be looking over their shoulders.
Personally, I have to be honest and say that I do feel a little more on edge. It makes me feel foolish, but the fact is that in today’s world, anything can happen anywhere to anybody. The most nervous that I have felt so far was this past Wednesday. I came into work and usually all I have to do is scan my identification and walk through the revolving door to the main lobby. This time, two police officers going through people’s bags guarded the doors, which had not happened before. I assume it was because both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were in Parliament that day giving speeches, but it was still slightly intimidating.
The threat level in the U.K. is severe, meaning that it is highly likely that a terror attack will happen. This was confirmed this past Thursday, when Prime Minister David Cameron made his statement proposing air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). One Member of Parliament asked if Cameron thought that conducting airstrikes on Syria would increase the terror threat on the U.K. Cameron replied that after speaking with the head of MI5 (Britain’s domestic intelligence agency), he can confirm that the U.K. is already at the highest threat level possible. That makes me feel so much better.
Despite all of this, most of the people in my program, myself included, are not letting our fear get in the way of having a good time. Are we forcing ourselves to be more aware of our surroundings? Yes. Do I sometimes fear walking through the streets when I see someone whose face is half covered by a mask? Yes. Yet, as I type this, I am recovering from a flight that took me to Dublin for the first time. I’m here with an amazing friend (who spotted me after I left my debit card back in London. Oops.) Together, we have traveled all over Dublin from the city Centre and Trinity College to Oscar Wilde’s statue. Tomorrow, we are going to the Guinness factory, getting a free pint, and enjoying our time.
We can’t control the actions of those around us. We cannot predict the future, and we cannot know whether or not we will be in the center of an attack. What we can do is to make the most of what we have here, be safe, and continue living life to the fullest. I feel that I am just as likely to be killed in my home state as I would be in London or Dublin. England might go to war tomorrow. Maybe someone will decide it’s finally time to push that red button that launches nuclear weapons. Maybe dinosaurs will spontaneously regenerate and decimate the human population. I don’t know, and quite honestly, I can’t let myself care. If I did, I would be staying inside watching “Harry Potter” and “Sherlock” 24/7. It would be far more detrimental to stay inside because of fear than to go out and face this world, darkness and all.
Buchman is currently studying abroad in England and is interning with Parliament. She is sharing her experiences abroad with The Elm weekly.
Photo courtesy of koin.com.