Coming to terms with Paris

9 Mins read

by Desislava Todorova, Tania Beck, Nora Asad & Natalia Carcame


In the days after the deadly attacks in Paris, the scale of this tragedy is becoming clearer: 129 dead, 102 of whom have been identified so far.

There are another 352 people injured, with 42 of them in a critical condition in intensive care.

Reaction to the deadly attacks that took place around 9pm local time on Friday, November 13, continues to come in.

The Pope referred to the situation as a “piecemeal World War III”, US President Obama labelled ISIS as “the face of evil”, Anonymous released a video in which the hackers declared war on Islamic State, stating “we will hunt you down”.

Remembering one victim at the Bataclan concert hall, Marie Mosser's facebook profile

Remembering one victim at the Bataclan concert hall, Marie Mosser’s facebook profile

Meanwhile on the ground, the authorities in Belgium launched a series of police raids on people suspected of being linked to the terror attacks as it emerged that the bombings may have been planned in the Belgian suburb of Molenbeek, an area that has been described as “a nest of radicalism”.

Clearly, there has been much speculation as well, especially about the circumstances.

An American band playing at the Bataclan music hall in the heart of Paris, it is known as an extremely popular venue; suicide bombers outside the Stade de France (France’s national stadium), where the friendly soccer game between France and Germany was taking place in the presence of French president Francois Hollande and interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

The choice for rest of the targets seems less clear: Le Petit Camboge and Le Carillon bar are places that usually attract young people, especially on a Friday night, producing some speculation that it is France’s younger generation being targetted.

Among the crowd of music fans was the 24-year-old Marie Mosser, who has recently been identified as one of the Bataclan massacre victims.

Marie attended the European Communication School in Paris, and her death has shocked her classmates at the ECS branch in London.

Questions like “Why Paris?” or “Why does Paris have so many enemies?” are on the lips of many.

One of the French students, Chloe Duval, said that “it’s all about France; it’s not about religion. That’s everybody’s personal business. We’re all different, but if you’re French, you’re French. It doesn’t matter where you came from.”

‘War outside’

One Paris resident, Alex Feller reported just hours after the attack that it felt like “war outside” and that she was trying to get in touch with her flatmate who was stuck in central as many other young people who happened to be out in the area.

Taxis were predictably extremely busy, as well as phone lines. “I cannot eat or anything, I’m freaked out,” she admitted.

At the time, she was in the 16th arrondissement, which is actually closer to Stade de France, and she described the atmosphere there as “panic”.

“The government asks us to follow the instructions, so we are waiting,” she said

After two days of anxiety and mass confusion, Alex finally said that she would go to work and “try to live a normal life despite everything”.

Another witness reported around 1am local time that she was “physically OK but stuck in a restaurant in the neighbourhood where it happened.”

She also added that there were around 200 policemen in the streets and that people including her, were not allowed to go anywhere, so she had to wait.

After the weekend, she said she doesn’t “really feel tension right now. People mostly feel shocked and angry at the people who committed this”.

“The hardest thing,” she says, “is that now we are very much aware that it can happen anywhere at any time and that every single soul is a target.”

Alex Fuller's text messages capture the sense of panic in Paris

Alex Fuller’s text messages capture the sense of panic in Paris

She added: “Like after the attacks last January we are trying to all stand together and get on with our lives.”

The area where the shooting took place is known for its dense atmosphere crowds of young people sitting in restaurants, cafes and bars.

Another witness, Plamena Karaliyska, who works in a bar just five minutes away from the attacks said that there were 20 people at the bar when they heard shootings: they shut the door and hid inside until police came to let them go.

International response has followed the attacks including one minute of silence on the Monday morning after the shootings; embassies across the world have become the gathering spots for mourning and most of all, for expression of sympathy.

French people are not giving up. Back to work but far from back to normal is the situation at the moment in Paris.

LCC alumna and freelance journalist working for the New York Times, Laure Fourquet, explained that people in Paris are both “tense” and “defiant” which was reflected in the vigil that took place over the weekend, during the public mourning at Place de la Republique – national symbol where people gathered after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January.

Many people reported they had overheard shootings in the Marais neighbourhood area even though no attacks were confirmed there, such is the underlying tension among residents.

Paradoxically, despite the government declaring the highest state of terrorist threat, the general mood is that French people want to “stand up to ISIS” and declare that they are scared but want to prove the terrorists have not won.

Photo fair

A group of photography students from London College of Communication were in France for the Paris Photo Fair, which was later, cancelled because of the attacks.

During the first few minutes of the incident, many of the students were unaware of what was happening and only realised after they received calls from friends and family some of whom were watching the news coverage at home.

One student, Alice Cooke, told us: “The situation in the streets was weird, we looked out the window and people seemed to be acting totally normally. I think at that time a lot of people were not aware of what had happened.”

After hearing the news from the outside another student, Tøri Gjendal, described how “we were all still inside and didn’t have a view of the street, which was a bit scary too. Didn’t know anything about what was going on.”

Screen Shot of Marc's profile A German student, Marc Ludwig, had just arrived in the capital and although the apartment he stayed in with his friends was more than two kilometres away, he told us he could see and hear helicopters all night: “terror was never so close and real for me.”  

He said he knew of “a friend of a friend” who was in one of the cafes who caught a bullet in his leg, but was taken to hospital and is now recovering.

Tøri described that it took a while to realise the seriousness of the attack because they were actually having a good time: “I remember how the discussion went from where we should go out, to if were going to get out, to if we were going to get home that night.”

Alice told us that the apartment they were staying was only 800 meters from the restaurant where the first shooting took place and 750 metres from the Bataclan centre.

“Our first reaction was just fear really, we had no idea what would happen next, whether we were at risk in the our apartment, whether we should stay put or try to get away.”

Tøri and Alice, along with their friends, are now back in London, but they will always remember the events of that night.

Photo by Tøri Gjendal

Empty streets of Paris (Tøri Gjendal)

Alice recalled that some people seemed to be acting completely normal and unaware of what was happening and the next day, there were still plenty of people in the streets but quite a lot of shops, restaurants and supermarkets were boarded up.

“Despite there being plenty of people on the streets the next day, there was an eerie quietness,” she said.

Marc and his friends only left their apartment for two to three hours the next day. Common attractions like the Eiffel Tower and Disneyland were closed.

He said the police and military were everywhere in the streets, all heavily armed. They were in front of official buildings, driving through the streets and on the river; there were not as many people on the streets as there normally would be.

Marc told us: “I think it’s made me a lot more aware of my surroundings, especially as we were supposed to have been walking right past one of the attacks to head out to a bar, but thankfully we were running late and stayed in our apartment. We could so easily have been right in the centre of the attacks, which is a really scary thought.”

Marc said he now felt unsafe and the attacks has affected how he feels about going big events like festivals and international football tournaments.

Eiffel Tower

The precincts of the Eiffel Tower were quiet after the attacks [Tori Gjendal]

Tøri and Alice also feel worried about going to concerts and gigs or big public events and Alice admitted that she is worried about the attacks happening in London.

“There will be an element of fear now for a while. As much as I’d like to think that I will not let it affect my normal life, it’s unreasonable to expect the stress to have not impacted me in some way when it comes to going out in London,” she told Artefact.

During her last couple of days in Paris, Tøri wanted to stay away from museums and public places but she believes that things will be back to normal for her after a couple of weeks.

Despite this, Tøri, Alice and their friends are already planning another trip next year for the Paris Photo Fair.

However Alice added that “after the experience we had, I think it will take me a while to feel positive about visiting again.”

“I feel extremely lucky and grateful to have not been caught up in the situation anymore than I was, it was a horrendously sad and stressful few days,” she added.

Marc decided to cancel the rest of his trip but is already planning another trip to Paris next year and said that “it was just not meant to be.” 

Calais backlash

Away from the epicentre of events in Paris, refugees say they are worried about an Islamophobic backlash after the attacks, especially against those stuck in the camp of Calais.

A video showing a fire destroying their tents appeared first on a Facebook page called “The Angry of Calais” run by anti-migrant locals who are campaigning for the closure of the camp.

Although the fire appears to be accidental and not related to the attacks of Friday, some believe this reaction is just the tip of the iceberg after weeks of tension between migrants, police, locals and far-right demonstrators.

In Paris there have been protestors in the streets shouting “Out with the Muslims” – interrupting a peaceful demonstration of people holding candlelit vigil in solidarity with the victims and causing indignation within the country – so refugees at Calais are terrified by the possibility of being blamed for the attacks.

Sabine, an independent volunteer who helps out in the camp, is sure that the fire marks a turning point in the destiny of the 6,000 migrants in Calais.

“Until a few weeks ago, I was able to get inside the camp whenever I came down to help. Now it’s almost impossible for me to get in,” she told Artefact.  

The frustration of the migrants who try everything to get into the Eurotunnel and reach the UK, and the isolation they face, has led to daily clashes with police.

“The police reinforced safety measures as requested by some locals,” Sabine says, “which includes restricting their liberty of moving around and stopping with tear-gas whoever tries to escape”.

The situation is aggravated by far-right exponents who try to get close to the camp on a daily basis. “They come here and insult the migrants out loud and burn copies of the Quran for everyone to see. This angers migrants terribly”.

Most of the refugees don’t have clothes or blanket warm enough to face winter, and the fire has left many of them without a tent.

“I don’t know what happened the night of the fire” Sabine says “but the fact that it was immediately linked to some anti-migrant groups at first says it all. It pains me to say this, but after everything that I saw in the last few months it wouldn’t be impossible at all”.

The forgotten of Beirut

While the world’s media focused on events in Paris, very little was said about Lebanon, whose government announced a full day of mourning after terrorist attacks on Thursday night in the capital city of Beirut. A double suicide attack killed a total of 40 civilians, just a day before the world was transfixed by the events in France.

As Australia has a large percentage of Lebanese civilians, social media users were prompted to Photoshop the Lebanese flag onto the Sydney Opera House, to protest about the lack of coverage the attacks were given.

As the aftermath of the attacks unfolded in Paris, social media also saw the sudden re-appearance of a story about 147 students killed in a terrorist assault in Kenya in April.

It’s believed that the story resurfaced due to the backlash against the mainstream media for reporting detailed updates on the Paris attacks while ignoring atrocities in the Middle East and Africa.


Featured image by Miroslav Milanov

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