My French host family and I began the evening of November 13 by watching a soccer game in the living room. They jokingly belt out the national anthem at the start of the match, and we cheered alongside thousands of people at le Stade de France when France made its first goal against Germany. But then, without warning, everything turned upside down.
Attaques à Paris. The upbeat and positive atmosphere morphed into stunned silence. 18 morts…40 morts…60 morts…the death toll at the bottom of the T.V. kept rising and rising by the minute.
The whole situation felt surreal, almost like a dream. It was as though I was watching the tragedy unfold in slow motion before my eyes, with nothing to do but helplessly stare at the screen in front of me.
Like millions across the globe, I had heard much about the Charlie Hebdo attacks of this January. I closely followed the news coverage and debates following the tragedy, and grieved for everyone involved.
But this attack struck me on a new level – and not only because of my physical location and proximity to Paris. France is now my home. My home was attacked.
The two tragic attacks on Paris this year also differ in the eyes of everyone across France. As my host mother continues to emphasize, French people are more than shocked and saddened, as they were following the Charlie Hebdo shootings. This time, they’re furious.
The lives of more than 120 civilians were cut short for no reason. There’s a sense of tension and pure anger in the air; even French president François Hollande addressed the situation as an act of war. It is clear that France is on the brink of drastic change, so the coming days and weeks will surely play an important role in determining the country’s future. Europe as a whole is faced with both social and political tensions that have only tightened in the wake of this week’s attacks.
The European refugee crisis, a pressing issue particularly in recent months, has now become a topic of even more importance and controversy over the past few days. Hundreds of thousands of migrants, the majority being Syrian, have attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea this year, hoping to find asylum within Europe’s borders.
Prior to Friday’s attacks, European nations were already divided in regard to solutions to the issue. Many Europeans had been against opening borders to Syrian refugees in fear of Islamic State terrorists entering their countries. And the terrorist attacks in Paris, committed by members of ISIS, have only heightened their fears.
There are no simple solutions to the refugee crisis, but one thing must be clear: we cannot let fear take over. This means that Europe cannot close itself off and refuse to accept migrants due to the threat of terrorism. Millions of Syrians are faced with unimaginable violence each day, as a brutal civil war has destroyed their nation and endangers their lives. For Europe to deny them aid would be morally unacceptable.
Yes, terrorism is a real threat, and opening borders undeniably comes with substantial risks. But Europe is dealing with a wide-scale humanitarian crisis that will not simply disappear on its own. Shutting doors is not a solution.
Since last Friday evening, I myself have been struggling to understand how people can be so heartless, why such horrific violence exists in our world. Yet the unfortunate, tragic truth is that terrorism does exist. We live in a world that is simply unable to live in harmony, one that is marred by hatred. Paris has been torn apart twice by terrorism just this year.
Only two short weeks ago, I was walking along the peaceful Seine River, gazing up at the Eiffel Tower shining bright against the dark night sky. Why must a city of love and peace be turned into a war zone, scared by violence and death?
It can be easy to lose faith in humanity during times like these. But if anything can be learned from this week’s events, it’s that we must join together to move forward.
We often hear the terms ‘unity’ and ‘solidarity’ following large-scale terrorist attacks, but I can’t stress their importance enough. Nationality, religion, race…all of our differences must be put aside. We are human, and that’s all that matters. The attacks on Paris are not solely a French problem, nor do they impact only the French population.
From Los Angeles to Paris, we have all been attacked. And we must all react together, as one human race.