Just like on 9/11, I will always remember what I was doing on November 13, 2015, when Paris was hit by the biggest attacks since World War II.
At 4:35 p.m., I was at the Levine Center with a bunch of friends, including two French ones, to see Queens swimmers compete against Wingate University. We were enjoying our time there when my friend Jean-Baptiste received an alert on his cell phone from Le Parisien. A shooting had just occurred in the center of the capital, more precisely in front
of the Bataclan concert hall. At first, we thought about a score settling between some kind of bandits, but the fact that such a thing happened in downtown seemed really strange. We could not imagine another terrorist attack only 10 months after Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Kasher. No way.
And yet… When we read that already 18 people died, time stopped and so did we. No. No, it can not be. Please no.
All of a sudden, the three of us reached our phones and sent messages to our parents, friends and girlfriends. Thankfully, everybody was safe, but they were completely disoriented. We had to see images for our own, so we rushed to the Einstein Bagel lounge and turned on CNN. We could not believe it. Chaos in the middle of Paris.
While we were discussing the events in front of the TV, I got a FaceTime call from some of my closest friends in France who were also watching the news. I remembered their words.
“Man, it’s f—-d up. It’s war.” War in Paris. November 13, 2015.
We spent one and a half hours in the same place, in front of the same TV, hoping that the horror would finally stop. But it was only the beginning. Minutes passed by, and the only news was the death toll, which did not stop increasing. They were talking about assault rifles, hostages and explosive belts.
The dining hall was about to close. We decided to go and eat while keeping in touch with our friends and family from France who informed us faster than TV. But we had no appetite. Stress was overwhelming. Every 10 minutes, French friends were telling us that 10 more people were reported dead.
It is difficult to describe the strange feelings I had when American and foreign students were coming to us, asking if our loved ones were fine, and feeling so sorry for us. It is difficult to see my country under attack 3,500 miles away. I could not prevent myself from thinking about 9/11. In the meantime, I knew that it did not even come close to what Americans felt that day, seeing two planes hitting the Twin Towers and making it collapse.
We decided to go back to the Hall Brown Overcash residence hall, and we joined five or six people who were also watching the news. More joined us later. In fact, almost every person in HBO stopped by and stayed a while to see what was happening.
Quickly, the news relayed testimonies from witnesses who heard “Allahu Akbar! This is for Syria,” providing evidence that these attacks were related to ISIS. On the screen, the same videos were played nonstop, in a loop. Images of the emergencies, the police, and soon after the military, everywhere in the streets of the City of Love and Lights. Images from survivors in the middle of wounded and dead people. Phone calls from witnesses who had to crawl over corpses to escape. Shock. Nightmare. Lives hurt and destroyed.
After another hour, we split up and everybody went back to his room, while keeping in touch with each other. I spent the night in my room, watching the news and looking for last minute updates on the internet. At 1 a.m., it was time to disconnect. I could barely sleep with all these thoughts in my head. Still, the worst was yet to come.
On Saturday morning, social media was invaded by the Paris attacks. New videos from witnesses were online. We could clearly hear loud gunshots, and see injured and dead bodies in the middle of bloodbaths. Such scenes in the center of Paris in 2015 were still impossible to believe.
The death toll reached 128, and around 90 seriously injured. All of the terrorists were reported dead. But this could hardly soften the pain that I and all French people were feeling.
Yet, all along this weekend, one ray of hope got us through these terrorist attacks. Unity. The unity of French people showing patriotism like never since WWII. The unity of the world for us, the unity of the world against terrorism. A man singing John Lennon’s Imagine in front of the Bataclan. People singing La Marseillaise. Lights and flags all around the world. Moments of silence. Respect for people who lost their lives, and condolences to their families.
“We do not forgive, we do not forget.” The motto from Anonymous – who promised to track and neutralize ISIS members – seems to apply to the whole world right now.
ISIS attacks are just an odious means to reply to the involvement of western countries in Syria and Iraq. World War III might be near, but it is time to take a serious decision. Either we let them persecute their Muslim and Christian brothers in the Middle East, and we accept to live in fear under the daily threat of terrorist attacks, or we engage in a real war to eradicate this threat, for the good of humanity.