My boyfriend, his mum and I had just finished what one could call an idyllic day wondering through the streets of Paris. Later on after his mum had left us we were sitting in a bar not far from our hotel enjoying the atmosphere and the soft muttering of French conversation. The bar which we had also been to the previous night was very small, decorated with a dark interior and low lighting. A women walked quickly from one end of the bar to ours and said something urgently to us in French. Neither of us spoke the language very well but her demeanour was clearly distressed. We assumed that she thought we had stolen something, or wanted something off us. A couple opposite us conversed with her and immediately they all started checking their phones. We still had no idea what was going on, all we knew was that the atmosphere had changed. The women who had originally tried to speak to us attempted again. Her English was poor but she managed to tell us ’18 dead in Paris tonight, on this street.’ I thought she was joking, we turned around and looked out the window but everything seemed calm. We later deduced she must have meant ‘these streets’ which was a small mercy. The drama of it all seemed farcical.
I turned my phone on and at the top of the screen I had message upon message asking if we were ok from friends back in England. It was then we started to panic. Yusef’s parents who we were travelling with had gone to the hotel earlier so without any hesitation we left the bar. The woman who worked there tried to stop us from leaving and told us to stay off the streets but we assured her our hotel was only down the road. The walk from one door to the other was terrifying, everybody who walked towards us was a threat.
When we arrived at the hotel we turned on the tv. Watching the news was surreal. The death toll was increasing and the hostage situation was getting worse and it was all happening twenty minutes down the road.
As soon as the news reporters mentioned ISIS I felt a huge sense of dread. The already existing Islamaphobia that is polluting our world is going to double, triple. Even if ISIS didn’t commit these acts they would take credit for them. This attack is exactly what the powers in the west need to continue their genocide of the Middle East and have the backing from ignorant, ill-informed members of the public to do it.
Neither of us could sleep, there is no better adjective I could describe rather than scared. We had the news blurring out of the television which slowly turned into white noise as we heard the same testimonials and the same ‘breaking news’ that we had heard before. We didn’t sleep, we passed out listening to the noises outside. It is an extremely odd sensation reading and watching an event unfold and being there. One feels desperately helpless and trapped.
In the morning we woke up late after a sleepless night. Answering panicked messages from friends and parents was a mammoth task Many asking us what Paris was like, if we had been told to stay inside. Truthfully, we did not know if it was safe to go outside but routine took over and we got dressed and went out for breakfast.
Even though France had been declared in a state of emergency and Paris was officially in a three day mourning period, life seemed to go on… to an extent. The streets where very quiet for a Saturday in Paris and all of the museums where closed. However, down the busy market Rue Montorgueil the boulangeries were open, the flower sellers were out. It was seemingly business as usual for many Parisians and tourists alike. It wasn’t until it went dark and the streets emptied that I felt fear. To add to the sense of unease on our way out of a shop we saw two men shouting at a Muslim woman in a hijab trying to enter. They were conversing in French so we couldn't understand exactly what was being said but we assumed the worst. Following this we visited La Republique, a square that stands for the French’s call for freedom and democracy;
Liberté, égalité, fraternité
After what we had just seen these three words seemed to only apply to a few, not all of Paris' citizens. However, the sea of candles, flowers and letters from loved ones that surrounded the great statue removed the feeling of mistrust and replaced pure sadness. The monument still had remanence of the memorials from Charlie Hebdo echoing within the new vigils. It was a humbling and emotional thing to witness that truly made everything we had experienced a reality.
In spite of things we were able to go about are day almost as planned, which made me think. In many of the countries which have suffered at the hands of terrorist groups for so long would this quick snap back to reality be possible for someone visiting the city? Of course, for those who lost someone reality will never quite be the same. What I mean is, I was able to walk around Paris, grab a coffee and a croissant, take in the sights. Would this be possible in Beruit, Baghdad, Syria? I am going to hazard a guess not. Bombs have been dropped over the Middle East for so long now that people have to be reminded the original reason the west invaded.
The lights may have gone off in Paris for three days as a mark of respect but the lights have been off in Baghdad since 1992 when one of the first bombs was dropped. We accuse Tony Blair of war crimes for invading Iraq so then we must recognise the irreversible nature of bombing not only a country, but an entire religion and culture.
What we must learn from this is that the double standards that our media have held for the west and the Middle East can now be broken. The social media backlash that has so often been vile, racist drivel can now be turned into something good. We can use the connectedness of our world to see that every life is worth the same. Full stop. Therefore, Paris dropping twenty bombs on the Raqqa province of Syria is something that we should oppose. Even if it believed to be an ISIS stronghold or a Jihadi training camp. Civilians will have been killed in the attacks and by writing off those deaths as necessary for the greater good, we are perpetuating a view of western military action that needs to be beaten.
‘Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.’ Thomas Edison
Edison’s quote was relevant in 1800’s and it is relevant now.
I had to fight the urge to get too political while writing this. There seems to be so much noise in the wake of this particular attack with so many voices, often negative voices. When really what we need is unity, solidarity and to continue to travel and explore this beautiful world in which we live.
Safe travels (please stay safe),