It goes without saying that over the last few days the world has been rocked by recent events in Paris.
Despite the fact that it was just one of a number of tragedies that occurred this weekend, for those of us living in places like the UK it is perhaps the most shocking, purely because it is so close to home. This is a flawed view of course, but it is far easier to be moved by such events when you know the streets in question, and have friends who live not far from them.
Yesterday, my friends Jonathan Hendry and Margot Terrini, both UEA students who hail from Paris, organised a memorial event in the square, in honour of all of those who lost their lives due to terrorist attacks over the weekend.
At 11 o’clock, UEA staff and students filled the square, lining the steps and the balconies to join together in a minute’s silence. Words such as solidarity and unity have been thrown around a lot recently, but seeing so many people coming together with a shared purpose gave us just a taste of what that could be like.
This is the speech that Jonathan and Margot read:
“These last few days have been very intense for a lot of us. On Friday 13th November, terrorists spilt blood in Paris: The city of Love. The city of Lights. Our City. A city that you may know as, amongst other things, a wonderful place for a romantic or family holiday, a city of impressive monuments and delicious food, of cultural diversity: a symbol of what terrorist aim to destroy.
The victims of these terrorist attacks were people like you and me, people who wanted to enjoy life: To have a drink at a bar, a snack in a fast food, to watch a football match, to go and see their favourite band.
All of us who come from Paris know the locations of the attacks, by name or by having actually been there. Many of us know people who were very close by when the attacks took place, and it is with extreme sadness and fear that we followed the news on Friday night, as the tragic events unfolded.
Any of them could have been among the victims.
As Friday evening went on we received messages, made phone calls and progressively found out that our friends and family were alright. Unfortunately, many weren’t as lucky as we were. People have lost their parents, their children, their friends – and today our thoughts go out to them and all the victims.
As we continue to take in the barbarity of these events, many people are struggling to explain them to their children, and to find the right words: The truth is, there are no right words. But what we should remember is that we are lucky to be able to explain this to our kids. In other places, other countries, there is no explaining to do: terrorism is everywhere, every day.
So this is what it comes down to: what do we want future generations to read in their history books in five, ten, twenty years from now? Very soon – in fact it has already started, some people will start to point fingers. At the Muslim community, at refugees. Their hatred is what terrorists want. Because hatred divides, when what we need is unity.
There have been some beautiful reactions, in Paris – where people bravely helped each-other while the attacks were going on – and all over the world: people have lit candles, they have showed their support through media, and in a few minutes we will join together in one minute of silence. Solidarity is spreading throughout the world and it is what makes us stand strong against terrorism; for Lebanon, for Paris, and for everywhere else. And that’s what we want to see in the history books.
Seeing all of you here makes us as proud as ever to be French; and, above all, proud to be citizens of the world.”
After the minute’s silence there was a performance of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, a song which has been adopted by Parisians since the Charlie Hebdo attacks last January, and a speech from one of the members of the Campus Kitchen staff. Sadly I don’t know his name, but it was beautiful and moving (please forgive the clichés) and it was wonderful to see not only students coming together, but the staff of UEA as well.
I don’t have anything particularly original to say on this topic because it has all already been said, by people far wiser or more affected than myself. My only hope for this post is to document this poignant event, and to remind any readers that in these divisive times, more people than you can imagine are ready to come together to stand in unity, and we would do well not to forget that.