Jessy Mekpoh is a class of 2011 USF media studies alumni. She now works for a public relations agency in Paris.
PARIS — Friday November 13th 2015, 10:04 p.m. I call my mom in Paris to let her know that my friend and I got to Brussels, Belgium safely. At this moment, I have no idea of what is going on in Paris and neither does she. I hang up, happy and ready to kick off this weekend that I had planned as a surprise for my friend’s birthday. An hour later, my boyfriend texts me saying that there were three shootings in Paris and that he is okay. I do not understand right away the seriousness of the situation. I just assume the shootings are related to drug gangs. It is only when I call him that I feel like the sky is falling in on me: terrorist attacks in Paris…in the streets, next to a stadium, and in a concert venue? It all sounds so unreal. Of course, there was Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish supermarket earlier this year and it was awful. But those attacks targeted a people of a distinct profession, or a specific religion. November 13th’s onslaughts means that everyone is a target from now on.
The Belgian news bulletins punctuate and ruin our weekend. As I watch the broadcasts, I realize some of my friends could have been hurt, or worse, killed. My boyfriend was on the terrace of one of the bars where 5 people died only two days before. I realize that one of those people could have been me. Most French people around my age have been to those bars, restaurants, and to this concert venue that are located in lively districts in which we drink, laugh, and sing. That weekend, Belgian authorities advised not to go to public places on Saturday night because some of the terrorists had flown to Brussels. But my friend and I did not want to give in to fear, so as a form of resistance, we spent the evening in a bar and the night in a club.
Do not give in to fear. This was a message that the French government kept broadcasting. But when I came back to Paris, I knew we were all scared – and we still are. I have seen it every day in the subway by the way people stare at each other. I see it on people’s worried faces every time they hear the siren of an ambulance or a police car that rushes by in the street. Along with other attacks, I also fear for the future of French society, and I wonder what will happen next.
Our political leaders have already started to change the constitution and introduced liberticide laws without the citizens’ consent. For example, the French Intelligence service have legalized several surveillance practices that were prohibited until now, authorizing telecom operators and Internet providers to install “black boxes” designed to filter communications and analyze behaviors without the approval of a judicial authority. Some politicians are using the attacks to spread discriminatory ideas. Mosques and French Muslims have seen an increase of racist acts committed against them. Debates focus on religion while they should be focusing on deeper societal issues such as social inequalities and the decline of the educational system. So it is the young generation’s — our generation’s — responsibility to stick together, to think more critically, to question our government’s actions and decisions, to open up to other cultures, to rekindle and further debates and to compare ideas. And most of all, we must keep on living.
Photo courtesy of Jean Jullien/Twitter