Letter to the Monitor: Paola Paci on Paris and the recent attacks

French TA Paola Paci reflects on the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris

How hard it is to think right now, even a few days after. And I am someone who likes thinking and not feeling. I don’t like doing both at the same time. Maybe this article won’t make any sense. But I’d like to say something to the students, and I hope they will read this.

Those attacks are not just about Paris or my country. Terrorists were targeting something else, something that can hardly be touched or explained. But I’ll give it a try.

They attacked specifically two neighbourhoods in Paris. The 10ème and 11ème arrondissements of Paris. They are close to what Westport in Kansas City is in a lot of ways. They are what we call in French “quartiers populaires.” It means that people who live there belong to the lower middle-class. It is a neighbourhood where a lot of immigrants live, and a lot of young people live there too because it is cheaper than other areas of Paris. Hipsters and what we call “bobos” (bourgeois bohème) live there as well. It is hard to generalize about people, and I hate doing this; but what those people have in common, for the most part, is tolerance and a will to understand others. There is truly something going on in this neighbourhood of Paris. People mix and meet other people. This is exactly what terrorists wanted to attack. They fear tolerance and mixing because in the process we might discover that in spite of our differences we are the same.

They also fear how festive those neighbourhoods are. I’ve spend a lot of time there, drinking near the canal Saint Martin with my friends. On my last party in Paris we were there with beer, wine, cheese and snacks. We were talking and laughing. And we were not the only ones doing this, far from it. The Canal Saint Martin is very busy almost every night of the week and especially in the summer. This is why journalists from my country feel so strongly that terrorists wanted to attack what we do best: being French. I mean this in the sense of how we spend long evenings drinking and talking. About anything, everything. Not only about the music we like and the movies we saw lately. We talk about what happened in January, we talk about the conflict in Syria. Yes, we also gossip from time to time. But that does not mean that we don’t know what is happening around us.

Terrorists also have something against young people getting an education. We all remember the attack on a college in Garissa, Kenya by Boko Haram earlier this year. 148 people died. Students or young people who had just finished college were killed that night in Paris. Education brings awareness and understanding of the world that surrounds us. They want the opposite: they want to keep people in the dark. Resistance is knowledge. Reading about Islam and all the other religions. Reading articles about Isis, Iraq and Iran to understand what is going on there. Because they will not keep us in the dark and I think that students at Jewell are all smart enough to learn about those issues.

I hope that we can all reflect on this together because thinking about those events in Paris, in Beirut, in Baghdad, in Syria and violence in general is important. We have to think about how people should not kill other people because of religion. We have to think about how people who feel included in a nation will not buy the illusions terrorists are selling to them.

After reflecting and being sad for a while, call up your friends. Meet in a bar, have a beer, talk, laugh, hug, smoke a cigarette, cry and then laugh again. Because this is what being French really comes down to sometimes.

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