Perspectives on Paris

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Terrorism triggers thoughts of security and politics, but it has just as much to do with globalization. The global integration that brought Agathe de Marcillac, a student of political science and international relations, from Paris’ Science Po to Vancouver’s UBC, is the same phenomenon that facilitated the coordinated attacks against Agathe’s hometown this past Friday.

Raised "between Paris and the suburbs of Paris, with a few years in San Francisco as a child," Agathe arrived at UBC in 2013 to complete a dual-degree with Sciences Po. Upon graduating, and “after much hesitation, [she] chose to go back to France to get a Masters in Law.” Despite her hesitation to return, she proudly professes that “Paris is definitely the city [she] considers home.”

The following has been lightly edited for clarity.

Where were you when you first knew something had occurred?

I had a late class that night, so I got home right after, at around 9:30 pm. That is exactly when the shootings and explosions began. That would also be the time when everyone is out for dinner in Paris. I was making dinner at home with a friend when we first heard about it. Our phones started buzzing, with messages from people asking if we knew what was going on. Most people were reacting to the first "alerte" they received on their phones, usually from Le Monde, one of the most read newspaper.

We immediately turned on itélé, the 24/7 news channel, which is usually very quickly on the scene for events like this. We heard about the shootings in the 10th and 11th first, and later about the failed attempts against the Stade de France. As we listened, my heart sank: my father and brother were at the game. That’s when I called my mother for the first time, who told me that the game was continuing and that the violence was only outside the stadium. Most people inside had very little reception, let alone internet, so no panic ensued. All we knew was that Hollande had been evacuated.

What can you tell us about the targets of the violence?

It’s important to remember that the places that were hit are familiar to every young person in Paris. I was at the Petit Cambodge restaurant just the Friday before. Had the attack been a week before, it would have been my friends and I. So whether the Bataclan or those restaurants and bars, these are familiar places for Parisians. They do not represent the touristy Paris, but rather our young "Bobos" (bourgeois-bohème) Paris.

The Bo-bo are the liberal upper-middle class of the French people, those who challenge the anti-muslim bias that is often very present in other parts of society. These are neighbourhoods that are not wealthy, but gentrifying, and as a result multicultural, vibrant, and cool. No haughty waiters and expensive meals–the population is young, and on Fridays, a little tipsy.

So you feared for the safety of your friends?

Yes. My first reaction was: which of my friends is out there tonight? Probably many of them. We didn’t know much, and we didn’t know if it was going to stop and how many coordinated attacks there were.

At that point, the media was only relaying rumours, and we thought there might also be attacks going on in the transports (the underground train was stopped at Chatelet because of a "suspicious package" apparently) and there were rumours that something was going on in the Louvre.

We also knew we would only know more in the morning. And we had to wait until then. We could hear the helicopters circling overhead. Our phones were constantly buzzing and everyone was trying to make sure everyone else was ok. This is why the Facebook ‘safe’ button was immediately so popular.

What does the discourse look like in France right now? Who are people blaming?

I think there’s a sense of collective mourning more than anything else. It’s only been about 36 hours since the attack as I write this, but one of the first reactions is why us? What do we represent that anyone could hate so much that they would be driven to kill random people? There is a growing discourse that we are no longer safe, that this will be repeated. This is the point of terror.

There’s a clear distinction in the conversation between those responsible and the French Muslims or refugees. We have seen a large influx of refugees come in from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, and the French civil services have failed to properly house them and process their asylum claims. However, I have heard no one blame them for the attacks. I think there is a general contriteness at the fact that many of these people just found in Paris what they were trying to flee by coming here. There is also a notion that we have finally seen how it would make sense for someone to feel so threatened in their lifestyle as to have to leave the country.

I haven’t heard anyone blaming Hollande yet, except for the terrorists themselves. But then again, we are still in the "union sacrée" phase. Give it a few days, and it might be all his fault. I am very concerned about what will happen in the next few days in terms of conversation.

For now, the words I see everywhere draw from a comment on a New York Times article:

France embodies everything religious zealots everywhere hate: enjoyment of life here on earth in a myriad little ways: a fragrant cup of coffee and buttery croissant in the morning, beautiful women in short dresses smiling freely on the street, the smell of warm bread, a bottle of wine shared with friends, a dab of perfume, children playing in the Luxembourg Gardens, the right not to believe in any god, not to worry about calories, to flirt and smoke and enjoy sex outside of marriage, to take vacations, to read any book you want, to go to school for free, to play, to laugh, to argue, to make fun of prelates and politicians alike, to leave worrying about the afterlife to the dead. No country does life on earth better than the French. Paris, we love you. We cry for you. You are mourning tonight, and we with you. We know you will laugh again, and sing again, and make love, and heal, because loving life is your essence. The forces of darkness will ebb. They will lose. They always do.

The quote represents (in a very cliché way) a lot of what we feel about our city and country. There are also a lot of Marseillaise being played around the world. There is a return to our national symbols. And it’s both very moving and concerning, because France hasn’t done that well each time we had a surge of nationalist sentiment.

Has experiencing a terrorist attack changed your daily routine?

It’s too early to say. I hope I won’t have to change any part of my routines. Drinks at café terraces are the soul of Paris.

Are you worried about another attack happening in France?

I think we know it will happen. But I don’t think it will prevent us from living our lives in the meantime. There’s clearly a sense that we cannot let terrorists dictate our lives.

What is the French government doing to comfort and reassure the populace?

All public demonstrations are forbidden until Thursday. To combat fear, I don’t know. I am not reassured by martial discourse such as Manuel Valls on TV last night. He said "We are at war and we will prevail," and many people have been challenging that notion because we know from experience that it has little chance of defeating an ideology such as Daesh’s. The government is now saying they want to extend the state of emergency for the next three months. It feels like people died for the symbol of our liberty, and the government is now taking more away in the name of reassuring us. It is both predictable and terrifying.

Do you support the escalation of force against ISIS in Syria and Iraq?

If anything has been demonstrated, it is that escalation of forces doesn’t work. Then again, I don’t know. These people have to be stopped.

Dismantling the arms trade and limiting their access to the weapons they need to conduct their barbaric attacks is more important than sending troops, which creates even more resentment.

Have any of your views changed because of the attack?

I wouldn’t say my views have changed. The geopolitical situation has not really changed. I understand the need to catch whoever is responsible but I do not support the establishment of border controls, even for a few days. The terrorists have hit exactly what makes us good: freedom to travel, to think freely, to exchange with our neighbours. The arrests in Belgium have proved how well European cooperation can work. I don’t know what kind of precedent we’re creating if we let the terrorists set the agenda.

Mitchell Bosley

Mitchell is a fourth year Political Science student at UBC. His interests include domestic and international political affairs. After graduating, he hopes to pursue a degree in law.

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