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Silent Friday

A firsthand musing on the Paris terrorist attacks
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By CAITLIN KHOURY  |  Moonshine Ink

“Uh oh, it’s Friday the 13th,” I taunted jokingly with a facetious grin. “Better be careful tonight.” It was 8:30 p.m. We had just gotten home from dinner to celebrate Amanda’s graduation from the Cordon Bleu Culinary Academy. Diploma…check. Dinner with the fam…check. Now it was time to go celebrate. But before we could pop the fresh bottle of Veuve Clicquot, Vanessa’s cell phone rang. “Oh, it’s JP in NYC; it’s only 3 p.m. there.” She answered it. “Ok…yeah…uh huh…What?! Right here? Right now? Guys, turn on the TV!”

The sirens and chaos on the television gained volume and intensity, finally reaching their peak as they morphed into a sort of surround sound, blending with the very same action taking place on the cobblestone streets right below our flat.

Time stood still as we sat there, frozen, eyes glued to the TV screen in shock, horror, disbelief. Our hearts dropped into our stomachs. After what seemed like an eternity, someone finally moved, breaking the deathlike trance. Pop went the champagne bottle followed by a slow hiss and a slithering white vapor. The champagne was finally opened, but no longer in celebration.

We watched as the death toll grew and more venues were added to the list of carried out targets. It didn’t seem real. Calm presidents gave formal speeches, flustered reporters tried to keep up with the escalating action, citizens panicked and grieved. We sipped the expensive bubbly, painfully slow.

Some of our friends had already made it out to the club. We got word that they were on lockdown, music off, in the darkness, just waiting, hoping. Some were at a speakeasy, stuck underground. “Paris Terror Attacks” on Facebook: we marked ourselves “safe.” The seconds ticked by, turning into minutes, hours. The streets were empty, the subways were shut down, Paris was silent.

The TV continued on — 130 dead, 368 injured, according to The Atlantic. “We are at war,” said French President François Hollande. “A state of emergency and high alert is issued.” A curfew was imposed on the city, advising all citizens and inhabitants to stay indoors. The first curfew imposed on the city since World War II, this would become the largest attack in France since.

We drank and watched, and drank and watched. The TV droned on in a somber hypnosis. We drank some more.

The next morning was colder than the last. It was a gray, moist, bone-chilling cold with the winds whipping around the marble buildings and through the narrow streets. Downtown Paris was hushed and the eerie silence screamed at my senses. The silence of such a majestic city was deafening, broken only by the monotonous clicking of military boots marching on cobblestone. The access to every metro entrance was teeming with young men and women in uniform, full camouflage and bulletproof Kevlar, red felt berets perched strategically on their heads, tall black combat boots laced tight, and assault rifles clutched in their grasp. They paced back and forth across the entrance. They paced underground along the tracks. They paced inside the trains. There was a methodic perfection to their routine.

That evening, people started to come out of hiding to live their lives with a false calm. We sat at a little street café, just like all the rest. Even though it was close to freezing, we sat outside. It felt like a tribute to those who were attacked, just down the street, at the outdoor cafés. We told ourselves we weren’t afraid to sit outside despite the fact that 36 civilians had been gunned down less than 24 hours before on these same streets of outdoor café seating.

The buzz of nervous laughter and chatter hummed on. No one mentioned anything, but we all knew. Every strangers’ eyes gave off a sense of connection. We were united. But in the name of what? And against whom? It felt like a hit and run. They had done their damage. But who was to blame? How can we be at war with an idea? Terrorism has no nationality, no religion. This faceless, heartless, homeless act. This entity that evades our every move. This monster that maybe, deep in the folds of confidential files of history, we were responsible for creating.

As a result of the attack, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel pledged $427 million to fight Islamist violence in the country. Paris has since mobilized 115,000 security forces, carried out multiple raids, and conducted airstrikes over the supposed Islamic State’s Syrian capital, Al-Raqqah. France also sought out a never-before-used clause in the Treaty on European Union that would oblige other member states to provide it with “aid and assistance by all means in their power.” John Kerry, the United States secretary of state, said the U.S. and its allies would strengthen their response to the Islamic State, vowing the militant group that controls large parts of Iraq and Syria will feel “great pressure,” according to interviews by The Atlantic. Although President Obama has vowed not to deploy ground troops, this is all too similar to the retaliation initiated by former President, George W. Bush, after 9/11. History has a way of repeating itself, and if we don’t study it, we are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past.

It was a week later. There was once again the usual mob of travelers at the train station and in the metro. Fully clad military personnel still paced their routes. The gloom of dense fog was thick, interrupted only by heavy sheets of downpouring rain and the honking of taxis in traffic. Things appeared to be back to normal. Since then, two more shootings have taken place in the United States alone, carried out by our own citizens, not to mention many others in countries all over the world. But I will never forget that night, Friday the 13th in Paris. It always amazes me, no matter how bad the incident, that life moves on. It is astounding; the human ability to survive, to change, to adapt, with resiliency, despite all odds.

 
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February 8, 2018