On Friday, November 13, 2015, the news of the terrorist attacks in Paris left the international world in both shock and misery. Within an hour, in five sites across Paris – the Stade de France, three restaurants, and the Bataclan music hall – suicide bombings and shootings coordinated by the jihadist extremist group ISIS (known as DAECH in France) left 130 civilians dead as well as a few hundred injured. This has been recognized as the bloodiest day on French land since D-Day in 1944. The entire world stood with Paris in solidarity that night, through prayers and hashtags, and monuments lit in the national colors of blue, white, and red, similar to the world’s response for the United States after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
The attacks in Paris, les attentats terroristes, left the city in shock. Madame Giannamore, a French teacher in our community originally from Paris with much of her family still in the area, commented on how Parisians coped with the tragedy afterwards. Some streets and stores were desolate the morning after, while in other areas many gathered, trying to go about their day, trying to forget. “Tuesday night after the attacks many tried to do a rally – ‘Let’s go out, go have a drink and go to restaurants with friends.’ So they did that, but you go to a restaurant and you carefully select a table so as not to be next to the window, next to the sidewalk.” Paris has actually encountered many terrorist threats in the past year: five foiled plans since the start of the summer, and the military presence has been so high that Parisians are almost used to guards around churches, synagogues and tourist attractions. “However,” Mme Giannamore reflects, “Paris will never be the same. Charlie Hebdo was one level, this is different. To cope with it, yes you try to go out, you try to forget, but you know it’s not the same.”
Why Paris? For one, France has been an ally of the United States in airstrikes on ISIS territory in Iraq and Syria. Mme Giannamore also commented on the other possibilities: “It’s honestly easier to attack France than England, perhaps because our borders are so porous, are more lackadaisical.” These attacks raise concerns about border control and immigration, but even President Hollande’s order to close all borders seems nearly impossible due to France’s intrinsic international, commercial and touristy nature.
While none of the attackers (all legal citizens of France or Belgium, despite one forged Syrian Passport) came in with refugees, the coordinator of the attacks, an ISIS militant named Abdelhamid Abaaoud, travelled from Syria to Belgium and around Europe as he recruited members to do his bidding. According to the New York Times, Abaaoud had been planning the terror attacks for 11 months. He has since been killed, a longtime personnel on the United Nations’ wanted list.
France is home to the largest population to both Jews and Muslims, creating tremendous tension, especially in the ghettos of France, the Banlieues. Mme Giannamore commented on these areas: “There has been such an influx of immigrants in France that there’s a point where you don’t reach integration anymore. In order to be integrated you need to be absorbed into the culture, the society. And I think we’ve reached that point in France.” ISIS has also reached a point, however, where they attract not only religious fanatics living in the Middle East but also second generation immigrants in a western country, where they may feel nonintegrated and disconnected. “The suspects,” she mused, “were not necessarily religious. They often turned to religion as an afterthought because they didn’t have anything better, and you have these people” – namely Abdelhamid Abaaoud – “that brainwashed them, and then the suspects used this extremism as an excuse for violence.”
So what now for Paris? Many feel afraid to stay, afraid to let their children continue schooling in a city so majorly targeted by ISIS. But Giannamore warns against this. “There are people who say I don’t want my children to stay in France because there’s just no future, chance, and they’re sending their children off to England or America to continue their studies and it makes me sad – because you need the youth in order to revive the country – you need that.” Parisians may currently live in fear, but it is the resilience of French people that will let them continue to thrive.