On Friday, 13 November, at least 129 people were killed and hundreds injured in a series of terrorist attacks at five different locations across Paris. Attackers opened fire on the 1500 strong audience of the Bataclan Theatre, some of whom survived only because they were buried under the dead bodies of their fellow concert-goers. In another separate incident, diners were shot down in restaurants and bars at the City Centre.
The event was claimed by ISIS, who warned in a recent video that the West should be prepared for the continuation of such violence as long as they continue their campaign against its militants in Syria and Iraq.
In the aftermath of the attack on Paris, the BBC asked Parisians at the Place de la Republique to sum up their feelings in one word. Among words such as “sad”, “terrified” and “angry”, Justine, a 38 year-old travel agent, chose “tolerance”. Describing the gunmen she said, “they just want to kill people – there’s no relation with Islam, we know that. And I hope we won’t forget that”.
These words reflect a growing fear in France’s Muslims that there will be indiscriminate retaliation against those who share their faith. “I am worried some French people will think Islam did this, that all Muslims are terrorists,” said Kaber Bouchoucha, 24, who works in a market to support himself through his part-time studies in fine art and design. “Already people in France look at us badly. There already is racism and this will make it worse.”
Besides national repercussions, the international effects of the attacks in Paris have already started to become clear. It is crucial that France’s officials share messages that might prevent further hatred and harm to some of the world’s most vulnerable – including millions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees who have fled similar horrors in their own countries.
French President Francois Hollande has stated that the attacks were an act of war and promised that his country’s reaction would be “pitiless”. While there is no doubt that those responsible for last Friday’s events should be dealt with severely, we must hope that France’s pitilessness does not extend to those seeking refuge in Europe. Germany–which previously welcomed a large number of refugees–is now under growing pressure to close its borders. Poland has already expressed its concerns – the incoming Minister for European Affairs Konrad Szymanski said “we will accept refugees only if we have security guarantees”. Under the scheme to re-locate refugees, Poland was to take 4,500. That now appears doubtful. Failure to comply with the agreement would lead to a backlog of refugees, thereby stranding hundreds of thousands of civilians across Europe who are seeking a stable home.
Rather than distancing ourselves from refugees, our mourning for those who lost their lives in Paris should be tinged with a determination to rebuild. This mean not only working towards re-building Paris, but also towards improving the lives of refugees whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the same kind of violence being perpetrated in the Middle East.