My Promise: Paris Will Smile Again

I woke up on Saturday morning to the realization that we have monsters living among us, some of whom were born and raised in France, as I was. Seven coordinated terror attacks: 129 people dead, 352 injured — 99 in critical condition. Those are the facts. I am a 34-year-old French woman who was raised in a Paris suburb and who has lived in the city most of my adult life. I have resided in London since March of this year, and have also spent time in Tokyo and New York. But I have never felt like anything other than a Parisian, and I know today that I will always be a Parisian. That sense of belonging comes from my love of social and political freedoms, irreverence, and nonconformism. I am proud to be a part of a city that celebrates the values I cherish. It also stems from a feeling of shared experience. Today, I am wounded and grieving, just as Paris is wounded and grieving, for the second time this year. The attackers have betrayed me as they have betrayed our city and country. The neighborhoods they targeted, the 10th and the 11th arrondissements, where I once lived, are symbols of the ethnic and social diversity in eastern Paris, home to much of the city’s liberal, educated, and creative youth. These are the same youth who avoided looking for easy scapegoats following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in January, the same youth that fiercely opposed the war in Iraq, the same youth who believe that a plethora of beliefs and backgrounds are positive for society. These are the same youth that are profoundly attached to the values of equality, freedom, and democracy.

'Même Pas Peur,' read one memorable sign in the Place de la Republique — Still not afraid.

This weekend, the human race revealed its most ugly side. But we also witnessed its most beautiful side. The offer of refuge to people needing shelter was instantaneous, spread through the trending hashtag #PorteOuverte (open door). Spontaneous vigils were held at Place de la République, and despite official recommendations not to go out, queues of volunteers formed at hospitals early on Saturday morning to donate blood to victims.Même pas peur,” read one memorable sign in the Place de la Republique: Still not afraid. The reality, however, is that many are afraid, and understandably so. But crucially, we remain unwavering in our beliefs. The immediate empathy and solidarity expressed across Europe, in the U.S., and throughout the rest of the world make us feel part of a larger community and encourage us to stay strong. We stay strong in order to show terrorists, through the experiences of those who have endured such attacks in Paris, Madrid, London, New York, Beirut, Istanbul, and beyond, that they will not win out.
Photo: Courtesy of Andreas Wiseman.
Maia Melyon and her partner, Andreas Wiseman, in Paris.
I myself am biracial, and a fervent defender of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is not the cause of attacks such as Friday’s. Neither is religion. In the words of Anouar Kbibech, the president of one of the leading Muslim organizations in France, "Islam states that taking the life of one innocent is tantamount to taking the lives of all humanity. This act has killed humanity 118 times" (the number of deaths at the time Kbibech was interviewed). So in the wake of this tragedy, I find myself asking: What went wrong in the failed journeys of these young French terrorists who so passionately see France as their mortal enemy? How can we improve the lives of those who feel disenfranchised in order to avoid them becoming monsters, too?

In the wake of this tragedy, I find myself asking: What went wrong in the failed journeys of these young French terrorists?

Certainly, there are significant questions over foreign policy. We must invest in adequate security and we must cut ties with those who only want to do us harm. But social inequalities in France and other European countries have contributed to the growing number of young men (and it is often young men) who are attracted to the promise of brotherhood offered by those keen to exploit their weaknesses. As a country, we also have long-term work to do to improve education, urbanization, and integration on our own soil. Sometimes we pay a heavy price for freedom, a value that ISIS detests and calls a perversion. But our determination is intact. For the moment, Paris is in mourning. But I strongly believe that Paris and the Parisians will smile and laugh again soon. They are already making their voices heard. They will remain free, and that will be our greatest honor to the dead. We will never surrender or let a group such as ISIS dictate who we should be or how we should live.

I know today that I will always be a Parisian.

Postscript: My Eurostar train from Paris to London on Sunday evening was half empty. The atmosphere was solemn. On arrival, to my and the other passengers’ surprise, the driver left his microphone on and decided to play us all Daft Punk and Pharell Williams’ shamelessly upbeat house song “Get Lucky” over the intercom. At first, it seemed to be a mistake; a bizarre choice at such a somber time. Then it started to make more sense. Most of the passengers had indeed gotten lucky that night. And I liked to think the carefree anthem was meant as a reminder that we must continue to dance in the face of adversity, that we must never apologize when we “raise our cups to the stars.” As the song says over and again: We’ve come too far to give up who we are.

Andreas Wiseman contributed reporting from Paris.

For full coverage of the Paris attacks, click here.

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