On the evening of Friday, November 13, in an organised series of shootings, bomb explosions and hostage-taking, 130 people died in Paris. ISIL claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks. France is still in a state of emergency.
Many have pointed to France’s involvement in the Iraq and Syrian wars as motivations for the terrorists. Others have pinpointed the sharp inequality that exists between those living in Paris and those living in the suburbs, the ‘banlieues’.
We talked to four young people from very different backgrounds who all live in the banlieues about what happened that night and what the future holds.
Landry is from Deuil-la-Barre in the northern suburbs of Paris. He is 28 years old and works in a bank.
When the attacks happened, I was listening to the football on the radio while driving to Besancon in the east of France. The game was interrupted by an announcement. I stopped and tried to work out the scale of the attack. The rest of the journey was difficult; I live in the Parisian region and have friends who live in Paris. Like many others, I immediately called my parents, my sister and my friends to see it they were OK. They were.
Responses on social media were violent and disproportionate. So much so, I deleted a few ‘friends’.
Are you shocked by what happened?
It’s strange but since Charlie Hebdo, I’ve been expecting another attack; I was just unsure of the timing. Despite this, it’s still an atrocity, which unfortunately might happen again. I feel that everything that’s happening now is the logical outcome of policies implemented years ago. It’s the heavy consequence of wars waged abroad but also of the different kinds of discrimination that young people in the banlieues, and mostly Muslims, have to deal with.
Do you think social media exacerbated reactions?
Responses on social media were violent and disproportionate. So much so, I deleted a few ‘friends’ because their responses were over the top and even dangerous. I also did something I’ve never done before and flagged up certain profiles.
Do you think there is Islamophobia in France?
Yes. It happens in everyday life and in the job market. Many people I know can’t find work. It’s also visible on social media. I have seen videos where people discreetly film fights between Muslims in the metro.
Is it important to talk about these issues?
Yes. 100,000 politicians can’t make decisions for the rest of the population. Politicians have to stop being caught on the back foot but also making decisions that take months and years to be implemented. Chaos is impatient. You just have to consider that nothing was done after Charlie.
Aurelie lives in Montrouge, to the south of Paris. She is 27 years old and works as a journalist.
I was watching the film Let Allah bless France’ by Abd al Malik – ironically – when my mother called to ask us if we were at home. She told us that there had been shootings in Paris.
Were you shocked by what happened?
Yes. I remember when the death toll in the Bataclan theatre was announced. We thought it was about 39 dead and even then that number seemed crazy. Everyone started to try to find where his or her loved ones were. I had a friend in the Stade de France. I also had a few friends trapped in the basement of a restaurant a few feet from the Bataclan. They were in a panic and wanted to know what was happening. I texted them until they left the basement at about 2 am.
I was shocked because it could have been anyone.
I was shocked because it could have been anyone. I was going to go out in a bar in the area that evening; I could have been outside in the streets. And we Parisians and those from the banlieues all knew someone in that area that night. We were all worried about someone. And then we all knew someone who knew someone who had lost someone or worse knew someone who was dead in the attacks.
And now, in the aftermath, what do you think?
On one hand, I think Muslims should be worried… that they will all be lumped together. But I also thought to myself that there weren’t targets this time, like in January.
No cartoonists, no Jews. Even Muslims were targeted.
So that that might mean there will be fewer divisions. It worries me. The fact that all the world are targeted in these attacks in their everyday life is worrying because you are aware that it can happen to anyone at any moment.
Does Islamophobia exist in France?
Yes, it exists. But it’s more subtle than before. And it’s this subtlety that’s frightening because you can’t pinpoint it and condemn it. One of my Moroccan friends said that Muslims and people who look like they might be Muslim would suffer.
It’s not about religion; it’s about appearance… A beard that might be a little too long, or features that are a little too dark. Anything can provoke suspicion. I’m afraid that Muslims will be associated with fundamentalists.
Are you afraid of living together? French nationals were behind the attacks.
The Sunday after the attacks, while walking through the Place de la Republique, in front of the Bataclan, and the cafes, I saw people talking about everything, about nothing, about religion. I heard Muslims shout out loud and clear that this had nothing to do with their religion.
Our politicians need to realise that even war waged thousands of kilometres away will have direct consequences at home.
I heard people saying this was just another challenge that we needed to face together if we wanted to live together. I saw different people look at each other and hug. And it is important to talk about these things so other young people don’t fall under the influence of radical fundamentalists.
And what do you think about the political consequences?
War scares me. It’s this stubbornness that will lead to more attack and new threats. Why do we Westerners always go and wage war elsewhere? It might be obvious but our politicians need to realise that even war waged thousands of kilometres away will have direct consequences at home. Should we surrender before Dash? Yes. War has never been a solution and will never be.
Mohamed, a 27-year-old insurance broker, lives in Saint Gratien, 10 km to the north of Paris.
I was watching TV. Obviously I was shocked like many French people. And the attacks were so impressive, I wondered if they were real. I didn’t believe it. I am shocked by the ignominy of these acts and how Islam, a religion I practice, has been instrumentalised by the terrorists and – to a lesser degree – the media.
I don’t know how we managed to lose young French people – to whom the Republic is meant to offer a chance at success – so badly.
What do you mean by that?
I am fed up with trying to explain that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. It is obvious that the Islam that the majority of Muslims practice has nothing to do with the Islam of the terrorists who have a warped interpretation. And the media add to the climate of fear and sensationalise the events. They often use incorrect terms to describe the perpetrators; they are terrorists, not Muslims.
What is your reaction now things have calmed down?
Incomprehension. Or at least certain questions remain unanswered. I don’t know how we managed to lose young French people – to whom the Republic is meant to offer a chance at success – so badly. Somewhere, they managed to find answers to the questions they were asking themselves… Questions that politicians couldn’t answer. It’s also worrying that the climate in France is still very tense.
What do you mean by that?
Let’s be clear. There’s Islamophobia. These attacks will only make it worse. Social media often stokes up emotions by omitting any analysis of the situation. And the far right takes advantage of this.
Is a fundamentalist, a Salafist, or a radical necessarily a terrorist?
One also has to use accurate terms to describe people. Is a fundamentalist, a Salafist, or a radical necessarily a terrorist? Is he able to live as he wants in France (like Mormons and the Amish in the USA)?
The media leads people to think that Muslims are to blame for all the wrongs of society. We must campaign for tolerance rather than focus on differences. We must educate and inform people of the complexity of the situation and avoid shortcuts – there are lots of different strains of Islam -otherwise we risk not being able to live together.
Mariama is 28 years old and from Montreuil. She works in digital marketing.
We were having a celebratory goodbye for a colleague in one of the avenues nearby. I didn’t realise at first that it was an attack and when people mentioned a shooting, I thought it was an isolated incident. I had a hard time believing what was happening.
Politicians have a responsibility for what has happened; and I am completely lost. I have no faith in them.
And even now I don’t have the words to describe my shock… we were all targets, without any distinction for religion, ethnicity or class. It could have been me, you, him or her. They threatened our everyday routine, our way of life, our freedom,
What are your thoughts now things have calmed down?
It’s a mess. More seriously, (and perhaps it’s not the solution) but I don’t think I can live the rest of my life here. I am afraid to bring up my children here; I feel less safe even though I try not to be paranoid., particularly as a Muslim. I think that people will perceive Muslims differently. Two attacks, in less than a year, have an impact. Everyone is suspicious; fear reigns. Politicians have a responsibility for what has happened; and I am completely lost. I have no faith in them.
Are you afraid that Muslims and terrorists will be associated?
Yes. And it worries me all them more that each time a terrible event happens like this, people expect a reaction from the Muslim community; it must comment on what happened or even apologise for it. That encourages people to treat us all the same.
Are you afraid of living together?
Yes, and even more so for future generations. I was listening to the radio station Europe 1 where high school students were encouraged to ring in and respond. One of the students said that on coming back to school, students retreated into separate ‘clans’: blacks went with blacks, Arabs with Arabs, etc. Everyone instinctively approached the person who looked like them.
The student blamed politics and I agree with her. It’s very serious. In my day, this did not happen and that was barely ten years ago. How did we get here?
Unlike the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, these attacks seem to have unified – for now – many of the French people in condemning the attacks. Here is a video made by the Muslim Students of France.