Paris, 2010
Paris, 2010

When I first heard something had happened in France, my brain filtered the information out. I focused on the keywords. Stade de France, football game… “yeah, the usual recipe for disaster,” I sighed, already picturing some kind of fight between two rival teams.

I had assumed wrong.

Minutes later, when Paris was mentioned again, I turned up the volume of the radio in the car. Bombing at the Stade de France. Shootings downtown Paris. It sounded serious.

“Shit, I hope Léo and Adèle are okay”. My younger brother and sister both live in Paris. My mum’s sister as well, but she had emailed me earlier on her way back from work and she lives in the suburb so I wasn’t too worried for her. I tried to call my parents but it was already late in France and I couldn’t get through. Sometimes Skype and the family’s antique phone connect fine, but sometimes they don’t.

I waited for more news. We turned CNN on.

That day of January 7 when I learned about the Charlie attacks, we were in Buenos Aires. With the time difference, by the time I checked my email, the entire story had already hit the newswires. Even if it took me a while to process it, the event had a beginning and a—tragic—ending.

This time, it was different. The events were unfolding as I was performing the usual evening duties. Rinse lunch bag, death toll rising. Do a load of laundry, more dead people on TV. Put in the dryer, over 100 dead. Make dinner, bodies in the street.

My aunt called me. At first, I thought she was whispering. Presumably, at almost 3 a.m. French time, the house was quiet. But I heard my cousin behind her and I realized she wasn’t whispering—she was simply shaken and it showed. “It’s a massacre,” she said. “It’s just… it’s just…” We struggled to find the right words. My laptop was streaming news from the BBC, she had the TV or the radio on as well.

I asked who was playing at the Bataclan. Not that it made a huge difference, but I guess my brain was trying to find some logic, a narrative thread. For instance, if it was a political event, a “concert for the freedom of wild tigers” let’s say, maybe wild tigers hunters had targeted that place specifically because they found the music offensive. Yeah, shitty analogy, even shittier rationale. I was just trying to make sense of things.

“A metal band,” my cousin said.

Oh. It could have been a Céline Dion concert or a circus performance. The point was to kill people, not make a statement about the performance.

Random attacks by random people. That was hard to process. It makes all of us feel awfully vulnerable.

As I’m drafting this, it’s almost 1 a.m. in Canada. Seven in the morning in France. It suddenly occurs to me how unsettlingly easy it is to kill people if you want to. Just grab a weapon and shoot. That’s it. As simple as that.

It’s disturbing.

French are not violent. Scenes of civil protest, even civil unrest in some cases, happen. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a car set on fire in the middle of the street or average citizens fighting with law enforcement. But shootings are not part of French culture.

The only thing that prevents us from being evil is our humanity. It’s not that we don’t kill people because we can’t. Materially and logistically, the act of killing is easy. We have procedures in place to punish such acts after they occur, but despite what we are trying to convince ourselves of, we cannot prevent them.

Only our mind, our humanity, our empathy, our moral compass and our beliefs prevent us from being evil. We, humans, don’t kill people because it’s wrong. If we really feel we have to fight, if we feel threatened or if we want to make a point, we have other weapons to do so—words, laws, and theories.

At this stage, everything is still very confusing. Emotions are raw, people are shocked.

“My” people are okay. Many people I don’t know are not.

I just have a few convictions I will try to stand by.

I refused to use Islam and immigrants as scapegoats. This rhetoric is going nowhere. Blanket statements are going nowhere either.

I think closing borders is absolutely useless.

I believe massive retaliation will accomplish nothing in the long term.

I think weapons won’t work against people who have sick ideas.

Let’s all regain the humanity we have lost. Let’s talk. Sounds useless and stupid? Yeah, well, war and weapons haven’t accomplished much so far, have they?

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  1. Gagan November 16, 2015 at 8:41 am

    It’s admirable how and what you stand by. It was a unexpectedly horrific incident. I have been glued to news and documentaries since Friday and trying to make some conclusions. As always it is very hard know all the facts, I mean all of them and eventually conclude who is really behind all this?

    Acts like this, they do shake an individual. I was two kilometers away when the attacks happened in 2005 when there were bomb attacks in Delhi. I still remember that for days I kept wondering that I could have been there and who knows what.

    It is horrific, however I was glad to know that your family were safe.

    1. Zhu November 16, 2015 at 1:07 pm

      I thought of the Mumbai bombings because I remember how shocked people were. Any population is, of course, when such events occur, but sometime you can feel locals are completely taken by surprise.

  2. LAURE November 16, 2015 at 11:25 am

    Thank you for this article. Je me reconnais dedans, ça fait du bien.

    1. Zhu November 16, 2015 at 1:08 pm

      Merci à toi.

  3. Lynn November 16, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Lovely, and so very well said. I didn’t know how to express my thoughts after this event – so glad you did it for me.

    1. Zhu November 16, 2015 at 1:09 pm

      For me it’s therapeutic to write, or attempt to write, what I feel. It hurts though but closing my eyes doesn’t make it go away. It’s pure bravado. Yeah, I was scared. But I refuse to be.

  4. Raj November 16, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    The moment I learned about the attacks, my first thought was hoping your family was ok. Glad to know they are good. Hopefully theyare coping well enough. It’s horrendous attacks on humanity.

    1. Zhu November 17, 2015 at 3:36 pm

      Thank you for thinking of them, of us. I appreciate it. 🙂

  5. Alan November 18, 2015 at 12:48 am

    Vous avez mes condoléances, Paris.

    I have a feeling that the psychopathic monsters of Daesh have sown the wind and will now reap the whirlwind. The should learn from the fate of the Nazis. In response the the Blitz of 1940, Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris of the RAF famously said:

    The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everybody else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put that rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now, they are going to reap the whirlwind.[1]

    1. Zhu November 18, 2015 at 3:18 pm

      I was shocked by how… stupid the main “brain” behind the attacks is. He looks like a twenty-something idiot posing in camo, in trenches, with guns. Your basic Facebook idiot. I’m still not quite on board with military action for many reasons (and I’m not saying I’m right, it’s just a gut feeling). But I hope they catch the serial killers, because that’s what they are.

  6. Holly November 18, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    It has shocked everyone I think. It is just terrible but I have to agree with your sentiments. Were we to close borders we would be condemning yet more innocent people. Religion is not the problem – do we really think that if religions were banned the problem wouldn’t be there? People craving power – that is the problem. Horrible people with power – that is another problem. It frustrates me to read these anti-religion anti-muslim posts on Facebook right now. I know a muslim lady was actually pushed in front of a train on the tube last week, which is just awful. People are so confused and uneducated when it comes down to it. Only light can fight darkness and only love can fight hate.

    1. Zhu November 18, 2015 at 3:19 pm

      As the days goes by, I’m more and more convinced that this has NOTHING to do with religion. These guys are not religious. They are killers with an excuse.

  7. Martin Penwald November 18, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    The problem is that the cowards from ISIS have political views for islam, and it is not easy to separate religion from assholeness. It is like the idiots of the U.S right-wing who flirt with dominionists ideas (and, by the way, it is the same kind of inclinations Harper had) : they want to establish a ruthless theocracy.
    Even if the every day acts of the ISIS bots seems more gruesome, the war against women (limited access to birth control, pregnancy care, abortions, etc) on southern states is as bad as these cowards’actions.
    And in both cases, religion is used as an excuse for evil. Fortunately, especially in Europe, people who declare themselves religious (whatever religion) have nothing to do with the morons.

    1. Zhu November 19, 2015 at 3:27 pm

      Oh, I agree, there is a link to religion, Islam in this case. But it is a link created by terrorists, a pathetic excuse basically. I mean, if someone starts shooting people screaming “in honour of Ipad!”, we aren’t going to blame Apple, are we?

      Islam is huge. It’s not exactly a fringe belief, it’s not going anywhere. I’m an atheist, I don’t really get religion although I can understand the comfort moral rules and a community can bring. But statistically, there are millions of peaceful Muslims and a fringe group of assholes.

      1. Martin Penwald November 19, 2015 at 8:25 pm

        In the case of Apple, it would be debatable 🙂

        1. Zhu November 19, 2015 at 10:50 pm

          iWant en débattre, en fait, t’as raison.

  8. Mel November 19, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Zhu, t’as tout à fait raison. Ce sont des lâches qui essaient de nous faire peur et de nous diviser.
    J’ai lu les noms des victimes hier et j’ai pleuré pour eux dans le bus. La plupart c’était des jeunes, ou des hommes qui protégeaient leur conjointe. C’est trop triste.

    1. Zhu November 19, 2015 at 3:31 pm

      J’ai vu la liste aussi, et c’est frappant à quel point ce sont des gens de tous les âges et de tous les horizons. Vraiment des victimes innocentes :-/

  9. Austin Dixon November 19, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing – beautifully written and wonderful perspective on things!

    / austin

    1. Zhu November 19, 2015 at 3:31 pm

      Thank you!


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