My friend and I watched in horror that Friday night in Paris on November 17, 2015 as the news updates from BBC and Le Monde poured in. We could hear distant sirens echoing through the city from the open dorm window at Cité Universitaire.
It was pure luck that we had decided not to go out that evening. Family, friends, and professors sent texts and emails wanting to know if we were ok. We were also desperately trying to contact other friends who either lived or were also staying in Paris.
Reports said multiple attacks were taking place across Paris at seven separate locations (this was later modified to six locations) and they soon confirmed that suicide bombers caused the blasts at Stade de France during a football match between France and Germany.
Around 10:00 p.m., the news announced gunmen had taken over 80 people hostage at Bataclan. We continued following the incoming live updates simultaneously feeling fortunate we weren’t in harm’s way, but also feeling helpless that we couldn’t do anything except hope and pray the casualties wouldn’t rise.
A little while later, French elite police units stormed the venue after someone from inside Bataclan posted on social media, stating the terrorists had begun killing hostages one by one.
Two gunmen detonated suicide vests when the police units entered, ending the horrific attack. During and after the attacks, Parisians opened their homes and places of business welcomed strangers seeking refuge.
Taxi drivers bravely drove people to safety free of charge, while advertising safe heavens with #porteouverte. Even in the midst of chaos and appalling violence, Parisians came together in solidarity and in support of one another.
We turned off the news at 5:00 a.m. and sat in silence. On Saturday afternoon, I found out that two suicide bombers rode a motorcycle into a crowd in southern Beirut and detonated, killing over 40 people on Thursday; the day before the attacks in Paris.
Even in the midst of chaos and appalling violence, Parisians came together in solidarity and in support of one another.
I also read a story about how a father, Adel Termos, tackled the second bomber to the ground causing him to set off his explosives early. Termos made the split-second decision to give his life for others in a selfless act that defied the instinct of self-preservation. May he rest in peace and not be forgotten.
News of the terrorist attacks in Lebanon did not receive the same notoriety as those in Paris and it’s important to ask, “Why?” Whether Lebanese, French, Syrian, Nigerian, Palestinian, Israeli or American, regardless of nationality, we are equally devastated when confronted with such senseless violence.
Honestly, I was in complete shock and I still express my deepest condolences to those in Lebanon, France, and all over the world. That Sunday evening, a friend and I went to Place de la République in Paris to remember the victims of the attacks.
Whether Lebanese, French, Syrian, Nigerian, Palestinian, Israeli or American, regardless of nationality, we are equally devastated when confronted with such senseless violence.
People placed candles, signs, flowers, photos and letters at the foot of the monument. Others stood together singing songs about peace and love while some held up signs offering “Free hugs! So that love may triumph.”
A man was wearing a COEXIST t-shirt and a woman placed a note at the monument that read, “Not in the name of Allah.” It truly was a beautiful atmosphere and while I was aware of the potential dangers of gathering at a famous monument, the thought slipped into the back of my mind.
Out of nowhere, people suddenly started running and shouting that someone was shooting into the crowd. My friend and I grabbed each other’s hand and ran down into a nearby metro to take temporary shelter.
A crowd stood trapped. It turned out that it was only an exit with an “up” escalator and frantic people started trying to throw themselves down the up escalator. At that moment, I could picture a gunman mowing us all down; we had to get out of there.
Others stood together singing songs about peace and love while some held up signs offering “Free hugs! So that love may triumph.” A man was wearing a COEXIST t-shirt and a woman placed a note at the monument that read, “Not in the name of Allah.”
We peeked outside and when we saw no one shooting at us, we sprinted out of the metro and down the street. Some people hid in shops but we didn’t because we feared a gunman might take everyone hostage.
We ran into the middle of the street desperately looking for a taxi. A taxi driver saw us and he let two French people, my friend and I pile into the back seat. We ducked down and the driver made a u-turn and sped away.
As the taxi drove off, the French women, a mother and daughter, expressed their concern that a backlash against French Muslims would soon follow the November 13th attacks.
They said they understood that the terrorists’ violent ideologies and actions did not represent Muslims, but nonetheless they worried about far-right groups, primarily the Front National, gaining strength by using the attacks as an opportunity to promote their agenda.
These women’s’ refusals to buy into simplistic, hateful prejudiced ideologies, even in the middle of escaping what what we thought had been another terrorist attack, spoke volumes.
When we arrived back at the dorms, we found out it had been a false alarm. The loud bang that started the stampede turned out to be a firecracker. Psychologically though, it had been all too real.
I had never been so afraid and I remember texting my parents about what was happening while running down the street, just in case they didn’t hear from me again. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries, only frazzled nerves.
The sudden outburst shows just how on edge the entire city of Paris was; similar scenes of panic occurred at Notre Dame and in the Marais.
Feeling this kind of fear is unforgettable and I sincerely empathize with those who have been through traumatic events, even though what we experienced was nowhere near what others have gone through.
I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to feel that traumatizing fear on a daily basis. The refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq experience just that and they are running for their lives.
We cannot forget that they are running from the exact same horrors that occurred in Paris. Keeping this in mind, it’s important to understand that Daesh is not waging a war against Western ‘civilization’.
They have murdered thousands upon thousands of Muslims and eradicated religious minority populations. Daesh est l’enemie de TOUS. It is also crucial to understand that Daesh represents neither Islam nor Muslims; their interpretation of religion reflects solely on themselves.
I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to feel that traumatizing fear on a daily basis. The refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq experience just that and they are running for their lives. We cannot forget that they are running from the exact same horrors that occurred in Paris.
Reza Aslan, scholar of religion, stated on a CNN interview, “Islam is just a religion and like every religion in the world it depends on what you bring to it. If you’re a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going to be violent.”
We play into the hands of Daesh if we allow our understandable feelings of sorrow and anger to give rise to xenophobia, Islamophobia, and other forms of hatred.
#JesuisParis. #JesuisBeirut. #Notinmyname.