By Ziad Abouchadi '17
The word terrorism, like countless others, is French. The reason for this is that the nation, in its long history of standing up in the face of violence and extremism, has witnessed more than its fair share of barbaric acts. In 1994, Air France Flight 8969 was hijacked with the intent of destroying the Eiffel Tower. In 1995, bombs were exploded in the Paris metro. In 2012, Mohammed Merah shot several people, including three kids in a Jewish school. Last January, heavily armed gunmen stormed Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery store. But on the night of the 13th of November, something different happened. The French capital was the center of the world as the deadliest act of terror of its history was unraveling.
As this article went to press, the death toll stood at 128, with hundreds gravely injured. Six simultaneous attacks targeting several restaurants, a concert venue and a soccer match, caught the authorities flat-footed. France, as everyone who has visited or lived there knows, has been on maximum security alert since the events of last January. It is not uncommon to spot soldiers with assault rifles patrolling the streets, airports or rail stations. Since the heightened security failed to stop the perpetrators, the president Francois Hollande will be under pressure to respond appropriately to these attacks. It comes as little consolation that the French authorities are not known for taking rash or reckless decisions.
Liberté, égalité, fraternité, laïcité. The French Republic was founded on these simple and potent values; liberty for all to pursue a meaningful life, equality in the face of the law, an unparalleled spirit of kinship between the citizens and a clear separation between religious and political matters. The 1789 revolutionaries chose these values as a result of their experience of the devastating results of a whimsical and religious tyranny. For centuries, these values served as a compass for the nation and as a beacon for the rest of the world. Today, they are attacked by the few, upheld by the many.
In a sense, it is understandable that religious extremism abhors France and what it stands for. The cruel and barbarous caliphate that ISIS is planning to expand could not be any farther from the French society. To quote Salman Rushdie: “The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings. Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women's rights, pluralism, secularism, short skirts, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex.”
The best answer to terror is to not be terrorized. The French people will not yield to crime or brutality. They refuse to be the slaves of tyranny again. They will continue to advocate for the human values that have pulled our civilization from the darkness of ignorance and coarseness, as we all should. Our common future depends on it.
Vive la France. Vive la Republique.
Ziad is a French-Moroccan binational, avid reader and stubborn debater.