Two French students attending Queens agree with the French media: “It’s our 9/11.”
Ezaline Décombe and Charlotte Mérat are both seniors at Queens. Mérat lives in Fontainebleau, approximately 45 minutes southeast of Paris, while Décombe comes from Nice, roughly 430 miles (approximately the distance from Charlotte to Indianapolis) southeast of the nation’s capital, along the Mediterranean Sea. Neither was in Paris on January 7, the day of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, but they certainly felt the effects.
Mérat was in her home, shocked by what she witnessed on her television screen. In the days following, she heard helicopters, witnessed police checking bags, and noticed security at synagogues. She needed to go into Paris, but these details distressed her so much that she quickly returned home.
“You don’t know where they are,” she said, speaking of the attackers then at large. “You feel afraid…”
Although neither Décombe nor Mérat reads Charlie Hebdo regularly, they still believe in the publication and what it stands for. They both view the writers as heroes, as “even though their lives were in danger, they continued to work and make people laugh.”
“I want it to continue… it’s a part of our culture,” Mérat said. “I want it to continue to not let the terrorists to win.”
“I may not always agree with Charlie Hebdo, but I still believe in free speech,” agrees Décombe. “Freedom is important.”
They stressed how important it is to the French nation that they have their freedoms. They are particularly proud of one trait in their nation’s government – laïcité, or national secularism. They say that like many French people, they do not bring up their faith when talking to others unless they have a very close relationship. This differs from their perception of many Americans.
“Religion is not shared or public; religion is personal,” Mérat said. “It is kept within the family.”
In 2004, this trait was expanded upon by the French government limiting all religious symbols in public settings. Both Décombe and Mérat agree that this may have been an initial stressor in some religious communities and fear that more terrorism will occur due to this.
In fact, this was not the first terrorist attempt this year. Police “stopped five [attacks] before this since Christmas,” Mérat explained.
Although they fear that attacks may continue, they are confident that their countrymen and women will overcome. They are proud that the evening of January 7 was not filled with French hiding in their homes, but instead with many French cities holding marches against terrorism. These marches included the public as well as religious and national leaders.
They’ve heard about terrorist attacks happening in other countries, but never has one occurred in their homeland to this extreme. “When it’s in your country, you personally feel attacked,” they said. They say they believe that France will grow from their 9/11, just as America did from its own.