Kristine Xu is a journalism junior and Mustang News study abroad columnist in Paris, France.
“Ten people have been shot. Something’s going on in Paris.”
I was away from Paris for the weekend at a friend’s apartment in Prague when the news broke. Without cellphone service or reliable Internet, I scrolled through my friend’s Facebook feed in disbelief. I read without fully understanding. My mind raced, wondering if my classmates were safe, how many innocent lives were taken and when the horror would end.
I felt helpless and vulnerable as I responded to the flurry of messages flooding my inbox. My friends and family breathed sighs of relief when they found out I was safe, but the same couldn’t be said for many families who lost loved ones that night. I don’t think I quite understood the events unfolding in Paris until I sat down and watched all the video coverage, interviews, photos and articles from news sources around the world. The streets of Paris I had grown to know and love over the past few months were chaotic and unrecognizable.
I was stunned to discover Le Bataclan, one of the five locations of the Paris terror attacks, was in the next district over and only eight stops away from my apartment by metro. I had met a friend at a cafe in that neighborhood just the week before. Classmates near the area witnessed soldiers running past their apartments, with the only audible sounds coming from the sirens of ambulances racing through the city.
After the attacks Friday night, there were 50 minutes of complete silence while the city held its breath. Not a soul was in the streets.
My mom and I finally got in contact on Saturday night. We talked about my plans to get back into Paris and even discussed the possibility of me coming home if I didn’t feel safe. I reassured her I would do my best to stay safe, despite knowing that I couldn’t promise anything. I knew that returning to Paris for another semester was the logical thing to do, but I also knew life would be different after Friday’s events.
Though this is the second time Paris has been under attack in the last year — the other being the Charlie Hebdo shooting — the nonsensical terror attacks of Friday night left a different kind of wound on France. People no longer felt safe doing normal and leisurely activities they had done without fear just a week before. By striking fear into the patrons of Parisian restaurants, the Stade de France and Le Bataclan, the terrorists attacked nothing less than the French way of life.
When I left Paris, I didn’t realize how quickly life could change over a weekend. Paris was under heavy police surveillance, with border checks in full effect when I returned. Public monuments were closed, along with many businesses. Many metro lines in Paris stopped working, numerous weekend events were cancelled and the Eiffel Tower dimmed its lights out of respect for the victims. The government advised people to stay inside unless absolutely necessary. Meanwhile, France observed a three-day mourning period and held a candlelight vigil at the Cathedral of Notre Dame Sunday night.
Classes were cancelled on Monday, so I headed to Place de la République to visit the memorial. The plaza was packed with people coming to pay their respects and though the atmosphere was solemn, I could sense the strong solidarity in the crowd. I walked down Rue de Voltaire toward Le Bataclan to visit the other memorials and joined a steady stream of people marching slowly in unity toward the sites of the attacks. We stopped at the gates where the police blocked off the street and gazed in silence as more people gathered around us. Silence fell. Everywhere I looked people held one another, laying flowers and trying to make sense of what happened.
For the most part, people continued on with their lives after the attacks. Though the streets of Paris were deserted Friday night and early Saturday morning, Parisians trickled out of their homes to visit the memorials; the terror inflicted by the assailants Friday night did not stay. Going out onto the streets without fear became an act of rebellion against the attacks. People resumed strolling through the streets, visiting cafés and continuing on with life. Though there was a tremendous loss of life Friday night, the people of Paris wanted to make sure the victims did not suffer in vain.
Within the span of that single weekend, multiple locations around the world had been under attack. There were shootings in Paris, a funeral bombing in Baghdad and a suicide bomber in Beirut. While the world looked toward Paris in shock, the attacks in the Middle East remained relatively disregarded. News stations published story after story about the Paris terror attacks, but failed to report on the bombings in Lebanon or Iraq to the same caliber. While there should never be a comparison about which attacks were worse, there lies an obvious imbalance in today’s coverage of events in western and non-western countries.
How I found out about the terror attacks, how my friends and family knew that I was safe and how the rest of the world was rapidly informed about the attacks in Paris is due to social media and news media outlets. If those sources have such a huge influence on the way people receive news about catastrophic events, shouldn’t there be more of an effort to equally report on events around the world? Though news organizations have a huge sphere of influence, it just proves that news will always be reported, but not all news will be reported equally.
While the world stands with France to mourn the victims of Friday night’s events, we shouldn’t forget to remember those in Beirut and Baghdad who were not lucky enough to be afforded the same coverage. Life in Paris has changed, but we will never forget.
Même pas peur, je suis Paris.
Without fear, I am Paris.