One’s first first reaction in these circumstances is to make sure one’s family members and friends are fine. The 7 areas of Paris where the attacks occurred started turning around in my head: is any of my friends likely to have attended the rock concert at The Bataclan last night? Could any of my family members have been in the Cambodgian restaurant where people got shot at? Could any of these bodies on pictures taken from the 6th floor, lying on the street be those of my cousins, my best friend, my former colleagues? Of course they could. Any of them, even myself, could have been there. The attacks were committed on places where people go, especially on a Friday night.
My only comfort is to know that my 85 year old grand mother who lives in the center of Paris was definitely at home at the time of the attacks, tucked in her bed. But that is about the only comfort I get at this moment.
Then come the questions: Why? And why so soon after the Charlie Hebdo’s attacks? I can imagine terrorist do not have rules where they wait long enough for a nation to heal before they commit another trauma. I was hoping to go to the one year commemoration of the Charlie Hebdo attacks next January as a part of my personal mourning process. But the November attacks push the blade a bit further in my heart. Year 2015 is the most traumatic year my country has known since World War II.
First it was the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, which made us cry over our lost artists, as well as over a full freedom of expression that we sherish so much. Then a man decapitated his boss in June in a gaz factory in Lyon. No link was found to ISIS but the alleged criminal was screaming “Allah Akbar” when found by the paramedics. And now, 7 attacks, more than 120 deads, and what President Hollande calls a “war crime”. This gives an image that France is a country of violence, where terrorists can be found at every corner of every street, where anything can happen to you if you go there. That muticulturalism has failed, that Islamophobia is justified. But it is not true.
I am not a Sociologist, I have no scientifical arguments to defend what I am saying now. All I know is that France is a country where all are welcome, and where we all live in peace. We congratulate Muslims when they celebrate Aid El Kebir and they do the same when Christians celebrate Christmas. It does not matter whether we are Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindous or Atheists. We grow up together, in the same neighbourhood. We go to the same schools and have friends from all different backgrounds.
Most of us, including myself, are already a mix of different cultures and religions. All of us have a Maroccan uncle, a Polish grandmother, an Italian grand father, a Jewish ancestor, and a Greek or Spanish name.
My biggest fear now is not to see the blood of today’s victims, but to imagine the future of my country. In one month there will be regional elections. The National Front is the main French extreme right wing party. It has been gaining votes in the past years, helped by an economic crisis where people get poorer, and a distrust in the country’s political leadership. Some really believe Marine Le Pen when she blames all the 7 plagues of Egypt (in this case of France) on Muslims.
At this time when I am writing we do not know who comitted the attacks, but we know that ISIS has claimed them. I fear these attacks are going to serve her and her party, increase Islamophobia and racism. Her ideas which do not reflect the spirit of solidarity, fraternity and equality of my fellow Frenchmen. She is trying to make us fight against each other.
I cannot help but take the example of Norway, which responded with peace and roses instead of guns after Utøya. Yet today the far right wing is in power, and who knows what this government would decide if such an attack was to happen again, with the name Allah somewhere in the scenario.
All of those who want peace are sadly more silent, until now, that those who want war. Yet 10 months ago millions of people marched silently for peace. And last night Parisians opened their doors to strangers to give them protection during this awful night as it can be seen on the Twitter movement #PorteOuvertes (#Open Doors). Hospitals are currently receiving so many people giving their blood to help the victims that they are saturated. And to give Charlie Hebdo’s examples, the highest leaders of the Muslim community condemned terrorist attacks, and French Muslims were cried just as much as the others. We are not afraid, and we are still standing.
I hope for peace but I prepare for war. I fear that such attacks, including the Utøya attacks, increase the radicalisation of our Western societies, making us close ourselves like oysters and not let anybody in. A bit less than one hundred years ago there was another financial crisis, a rise of the extreme right movements in Europe and the democratic election of a man in Germany who changed the face of our world. I just hope us Europeans are not stupid enough to make the same mistakes one century later, this time changing the name of Jews for thus of Muslims.
This article was also published in the Norwegian daily national newspaper Verdens Gang on the 14th of November under the title Det traumatiske året.