It had been a typical day.
Winding down a long, but interesting week. I was conscious of a coursework deadline for my Legal Theory module; it was rapidly approaching and I was concerned about getting my work completed that weekend. My mind was humming with humdrum student things: notes, reading, emails and God needs to provide more hours in the day to permit me to get through my to do list.
I had been working on coursework planning and research on Friday the 13th November. That morning was spent attending a fantastic workshop relating to Dispute Resolution in Business, learning about the benefits of undertaking mediation in lieu of litigation. I had learnt a lot, and met many inspiring ladies who wished me success in my final year of Law and for the future. The afternoon saw me at my laptop surrounded in textbooks and green tea, pondering which arguments to select for my diatribe against the House of Lords judgment in R v A (No 2) and my support for the Feminist Judgments Project rewritten judgment. (An interesting topic to read about to be fair; I never fully realised just how different a judgment can be reached through using a different perspective.)
Just a typical student day.
Until the news broke that evening of horrific, wide-spread attacks in Paris.
My family and I had been watching The Hunger Games that evening; I was explaining the plot to my father who was slowly becoming more interested in the film whilst my mother expressed a desire to borrow my books to read it for herself. We were discussing dystopian futures, corrupt elites and how the downtrodden eventually mount revolutions when I idly scrolled through my twitter feed and saw tweet after tweet about breaking news in Paris. Needless to say, my parents and I were shocked, and after learning more about the ongoing attacks, we switched over to Sky News.
We watched in silence as we learnt of attacks in restaurants, of explosions near Stade du France and reports of a hostage situation in a theatre. We watched as news unfolded about a growing death toll, the television screen full of police and ambulances with screeching sirens.
My heart sank, but not before it broke. How many people had gone out for an evening of fun, entertainment and relaxation on a Friday evening, and would not come home? How many had thought to herald in the weekend with friends and family, only to witness such horror?
I have friends in Paris. Some are French, who naturally reside there. Others are friends, from Ireland and America, who happen to be living and studying abroad there. I instantly thought of them: were they safe? Were they watching their city being attacked?
There had been an earthquake in Japan that day. Terrorist attacks in Beirut the day before. An ongoing conflict in Yemen. More airstrikes in Syria. We were surrounded by death and destruction, but it was watching the attacks unfold in Paris that it hit home: the world is being torn apart by conflict, terrorism and fear. My heart goes out to all victims of such atrocities the world over. There is not a hierarchy of victims in my eyes. Terrorists do not rank their victims, either.
The European way of life was attacked on Friday. I suppose that is why the Paris attacks shocked me as they did. Bombings, shootings, street violence… All this happened in France, within Europe. We are supposed to feel safe here – at least, that is what we are told. We are made aware of security threats, but reassured that there are security measures in place.
Our way of life is one of democracy, freedom, of interactions with friends and meeting new people. We advocate rights for all, education for all, acceptance and tolerance of all faiths, opinions and thoughts. We recognise minority groups and fight to end discrimination and promote equality. We abide by the rule of law, enjoy entertainment and deriving pleasure from interests and hobbies. Our way of life is, in sum, the complete antithesis of the way of life ISIS and other terrorist organisations insist upon. Freedom, equality, rights and acceptance – words which ISIS in particular cannot abide by. Hence the organised attacks in Paris, a city proud of its culture, bonhomie and entertainment.
But Paris will not be cowed. Paris will adhere to its motto – Fluctuat nec mergitur / ‘She is tossed by the waves but does not sink’. These attacks were meant to spark fear, to incite hatred and violence towards French Muslims and instigate division and inflame extreme nationalists. Paris will instead unite. Paris will unite in grief, unite in sorrow, and unite in the belief that it will overcome.
And Europe, and the world, will unite too. Not just for Paris. But for all countries enduring conflict, terror and pain. We will unite in our humanity, for when we are united we cannot be defeated.
ISIS wants us to fear them. Fear is a powerful weapon, an oft-used tactic in war to demoralise and defeat.
But unity? Unity is even more powerful. From unity we derive strength. And this strength provides the will to fight back.
We shall fight back. We will fight back by simply continuing in our way of life, and refusing to give in. We will continue to go to work and to school. We will continue to have fun with friends and family, whether in restaurants or cinemas. We will live our lives and insist on our freedoms and civil liberties. We will not blame or be violent towards our fellow citizens. Islam is not what ISIS represents, and we should not be asking our Muslim friends and neighbours to prove they are not terrorists.
Northern Ireland was torn apart by continuous conflict. ‘The Troubles’, we call it. That name conjures images of minor civil disruptions, whereas in reality there were bombs, security alerts, shootings and kidnappings on a regular basis. Police and army soldiers strolled down every street. Communities were divided, with distrust and fear and bitterness the invisible barrier between them.
But we overcame. Northern Ireland picked itself up and slowly but surely saw off the violence and the death. Citizens wanted change, wanted peace. Unionists and Nationalists, Catholics and Protestants, the politically-neutral and minority religions – they all united. Peace marches, the call to non-arms aka utilise political, peaceful platforms: they instigated change through both political and societal means. And unity worked. The Good Friday Agreement arrived, followed by ceasefires and decommissioning and devolution.
I am not saying Northern Ireland is perfect. Goodness knows, our politics can be exasperating, we sometimes live too often in the past – but we are not at war with each other anymore. Peace walls are coming down, both literally and metaphorically. Desegregation of communities is ongoing, and within education is a real possibility. The Troubles may have divided us for a while, but ultimately it united us as we sought to bring peace and stability to our state.
So, dear France, dear countries of the world – whilst this is a dark, dark moment, know that you will soon find light. You can, and will, overcome. In unity you will find the strength to continue. You will find the strength to overcome.
And you will win.