Raw. This is how everyone seems to be feeling at the moment in Paris. As I cross Square Léon in the north of Paris, near one of the African districts of the city called Château Rouge, the French capital remains unusually silent.
Even if the attacks, which killed approximately 129 persons last Friday, left him “speechless” (as Abdoul Bah said at first), it didn’t change his habits. I met Bah with his son, in a garden where children play after school. He stands on a bank surrounded by some friends.
“Some Guinean, Malian and Senegalese friends who used to live nearby died on Friday,” the 45-year-old explained. He says he’s lived in France since 2000. “I was watching the football game between France and Germany on TV, normally followed by an interview, but not this time because of attacks.” He spoke at length about what he learned from BFM TV, one of the French 24-hour cable news channels. “It’s not okay,” Bah insists. “We want this to stop. Those people who died were innocent.”
Bah, who is Muslim, insists he could not possibly be of the same religion as the terrorists. But still, some people here, like the French director Mathieu Kassovitz, want to see all Muslims protest against the murderers. “If not, you are responsible for the confusion you are suffering,” the filmmaker wrote in a now deleted tweet he’s since apologized for.
On Friday afternoon, French Muslims were invited by the French Council of the Muslim Faith to express “how deeply connected they are to Paris, its diversity and the French Republican values” in front of the Great Mosque of Paris. “Being Muslim is about forgiveness and love. A real one doesn’t kill,” Bah coolly explains, definitely knowing himself and his faith. “So I don’t have to justify what they did.”
Noumbé, 28, walks hurriedly. “I’m scared since the bomb attacks,” she explains, saying she’d never heard about Daesh ISIL before Friday. “Nobody from my friends or my family got hurt,” she reveals. “[The area of the attacks] is not a place where I often go.”
The 11th arrondissement of Paris is a zone at the very center of the city where parties take place. This is where I meet a man by the name of Séverin. He looks like part of the young, diverse, international artist crowd who loves to hang out there, in one of the last areas in Paris where it’s still possible to have an affordable drink or meal.
“People have to understand that it’s not about the Black or White community; this touched everybody,” he says. “We all have someone who lost someone that night.” Like his colleagues (with whom he works in one of the restaurants close to the site of the attack), Severin turns down the TV, sickened by all the testimonials and reports he watched. “One of my dear friends lost a bunch of his friends,” he says softly. “I have to show him respect, stay quiet. Maybe in one week, it will be okay to talk. All those deaths… The shock… Now I can’t.”
Some Black people in France, such as Melissa Laveaux, think about what’s next. The Haitian-Canadian songstress, who’s lived in Paris for a few years, was stuck at la Gaîté Lyrique, where she attended a concert. She was far away from her fiancée when she learned about the attacks.
“All my friends were with their loved ones, I didn’t want to die without my fiancé,” she says. Once back at home, she was still worried about her wife-to-be, who had to ride a bike to back. Melissa saw pictures of the dead on her Facebook wall. She says she also had to get in habit of seeing the French flag on the social media. “I’m patient now,” she said. For sure, these attacks on Friday are “the only beginning” she believed. She was right, unfortunately.
For Laveaux, terrorism brings another reason to be worried, even if “as a Black woman, I have to be afraid of anything. Our children can get beaten by the police, we can have problems finding a job, we always need to work more.” She’s hesitant to restart her social life, despite hashtags like #jesuisenterrasse and #tousaubistrot encouraging people to go out and have a drink in bars. “The guys who attacked Paris are mostly French,” Melissa insists. “They became crazy here. They wanted to divide all of us.” Maybe they’ve already succeeded.
Kiyemis—who asked EBONY.com not publish her name — admits she was too emotional to think for a while. She supposed it was obvious for everybody that the situation was a nightmare for her too. “I soon became disillusioned,” the 23-year-old student admitted once she was able to think about what happened. She also hoped “a Black or an Arab” did not carry out the attacks, because of amalgams like those from the Front National, the very racist French political party. Marine Le Pen, the party leader, loves to link immigration and radical Islam, among many other things.
“We stick together with my friends, because of the shock, of course. We talk a lot and are also very pessimistic about our future,” Kiyemis says. “To us, this is going to just lead to more politicians from the Front National to take on positions of responsibility, who aren’t exactly the defenders of our rights.” She paused. “Without a real policy figuring out how we can all live together, and which fights against discrimination, these years are going to be very difficult, especially for the Blacks in France.”
Dolores Bakela is a journalist living in France. She is the co-founder of lafrolesite.wordpress.com, a blog about the Afro-French experience.