Around eighty students and staff gathered at Happy Park on November 18 to pay tribute to the 173 victims of terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut.
The tribute was organized by a group of French students led by Mehdi Ouldelhkim, a third-year student from Paris enrolled in the dual bachelor’s program between Sciences Po Paris and HKU. HKU’s French Society and Muslim Student’s Association also contributed to the organization of the event, in conjunction with CEDARS.
Jason Lau, Internal Vice-Chairperson of the French Society, said organizers wanted to bring students together to honor victims and express HKU’s intolerance of such terrorist acts.
“We wanted to unite the HKU community, send a message of peace and pay our respects to those affected,” said Lau.“The war against terrorism is not a single country’s matter. We should condemn these barbaric acts. Our society thinks these acts should not be tolerated and we want to send this message to the community. At the same time, we want to show our respects to those who have died and to their families.”
Speeches were made under Lebanese, EU and French flags by representatives of the university, the French student community, the French society and the Muslim Association.
HKU’s Vice-President and Pro-Vice Chancellor Ian Holliday expressed the university’s stance on the horrific attacks.
“The university abhors violence in all forms, stands with France and with those who suffered in the attacks and offers its deepest condolences to the victims,” Holliday said.
Ouldelhkim provided an optimistic message to the crowd, quoting a Frenchman named Grégory Reibenberg. Reibenberg’s restaurant in Paris, “La Belle Equipe,” was affected by the attacks, and he who lost his wife and eight other loved ones the night of the attack.
“‘We can always smile with scars on our faces.’”
Hassaan Shah, Chairman of the Muslim Student’s Association, followed Ouldelhkim, reminding the audience on behalf of the Muslim community that Islam is not the enemy.
“We are all humans and we condemn all these acts of terrorism from the bottom of our hearts,” Shah said. “We should be united and not divided by nationalities, ethnicities and religions. Terrorism in a sense has no religion. It is important for us to be united in this common cause.”
The Lebanese and French anthems were played in succession. The music was followed by two minutes of silence for victims of the terrorist attacks.
Participants were able to write their messages of condolences and support to the victims in a book provided by organizers. The messages will be given to the French Consulate in Hong Kong.
Lau had his own message for the victims: “Stay strong. We can’t change the things that have happened but we can show our care and courage.”
Following the tribute, Shah shared in an interview that he has identified two groups of victims of these attacks.
“There are those who were directly affected, I would say to them that we have to be patient in these times,” Shah said. “Anger will not be deterred by anger. We should be people who are rational in how we perceive this matter. If we play the game the terrorist wants us to, which is to be fearful, then they will have what they want.”
“The other group of victims are those who will be labelled because of these attacks,” Shah continued. “We should work together regardless of religion. There were Christians in those attacks, there were Muslims in those attacks, there were people of all faiths from all over the world. These unfortunate events should make people question what exactly Islam is. Does Islam promote terrorism? Is ISIS the face of Islam as they claim to be? People should reach out to their Muslim friends and ask these questions. I think this would be a wonderful step towards racial harmony.
Shah noted that understanding people with different religious backgrounds plays into core values of HKU.
“One of the fundamental codes of our university is inclusiveness and diversity, which I highly applaud,” he said.
Sylvain Holtermann, French lecturer and Deputy Head of the School of Modern Languages, attended the tribute on behalf of the French language program. Holtermann said he had difficulty finding a message for the victims.
“To the victims, I don’t have the authority to say much to them. I have empathy, I share their suffering, but we can’t feel the pain and grief of someone who has lost a loved one, it’s tough,” he said. “The dramatic thing about terrorism is not only in the casualties it creates, it’s also in the choices that it constrains us to. They only leave the choice between blood and tears. There is no other path.”
“This is a tragic thing for France, but these kind of things happen in Syria every day,” Holtermann said.“Maybe if we all paid more attention to this problem, we will have a stronger motivation to find a solution.”