“Paris the beautiful, my hometown”: French exchange student at HKU speaks up about Paris attacks

When I wake up every morning, one of my habits is to briefly read some international news. This morning, on November 14, it only took me seconds to understand that France has encountered the deadliest terrorist attack in its history. At least 129 people died and 352 were injured  – of whom 99 critically so – in an assault of 6 coordinated terrorist attacks on Friday night inside Paris’ centre.

I cannot tell you how horrified I was. Paris the beautiful, my hometown. How could this happen? But quickly came incomprehension. Why? On behalf of what? Nothing can justify such cruelty and barbarism.

Since the Charlie Hebdo attack in January, police forces were highly reinforced inside the capital in the so-called “plan vigipirate,” France’s national security alert system. Special forces known as National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN) were doubled. Today, the government has declared a national state of emergency, which is exceedingly rare for the country.

It’s only the second time since World War II that France has taken such drastic measures. The last time was in 2005 when the deaths of two teenagers sparked countrywide riots. Under a state of emergency, authorities can put entire neighbourhoods on lockdown and close any establishment, such as concert halls or schools.

In Hong Kong, a gathering to pay tribute to the victims was organised later in the day at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park. I was glad to see the French community respond to the call. Even some of my foreign friends at HKU came to show their support. Candles, flowers, and drawings were put on the ground by the pond. Then a minute of silent took place at 8:30 pm.

I talked to a lot of French people that night to discuss the future of our country. What happened was terribly sad but I’m even more worried about the future. How can we eradicate terrorism in France?

Back in the 70s, when French economy was at its best, massive immigration occurred from North African countries to Paris. Unfortunately it has been done too quickly. As there were not enough facilities to host them, immigrants generally gathered in the same neighbourhood. Today some immigrants still do not feel well integrated in the capital. A minority feel rejected by the native French population and thus they hate France, even though they now have French nationality.

To me, this is the core of the problem and the main cause of yesterday’s attacks. I’m definitely not against immigration, but it has to be done properly.

This is a very complex problem that will take years to overcome but I hope our president will make the right decisions to bring peace back to the city of love.
Lancelot Chardonnet is on exchange at HKU for the fall semester. He will return to his hometown of Paris in January.

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