By Sasha Frank
Current Topics Editor
Members of the school community have joined the world at large in voicing solidarity with France and condemning the senseless violence wrought by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) when earlier this month it took the lives of 130 civilians in Paris. Amidst the horror of the unfolding news, French Teacher Cécile Roucher-Greenberg called the school-wide response “fantastic.”
“Within hours, faculty, students, and parents were texting and emailing me,” Ms. Roucher-Greenberg said. “Students were checking in with their pen-pals and exchange partners.”
Between 9 and 10 p.m. on Friday, November 13, at least seven terrorists worked in concert to perpetrate multiple attacks across Paris, including three suicide bombings at the French national stadium, shootings at several restaurants and bars in the city’s 10th and 11th districts, and a mass hostage-taking and shooting at the Bataclan Concert Hall, where an American band was playing.
Reza Mahdavi P ’16, who had been in Paris for several weeks on business, was out for dinner in the 10th district on the night of the violence. The restaurant owner, a friend of Mr. Mahdavi, came over to his table in the middle of the meal and told him: “There have been attacks, and people have died.”
At the time, Mr. Mahdavi said, he and his friends did not make much of it. They thought there had perhaps been a shooting between two rival gangs.
“We were concerned, but we did not know the magnitude of what had happened,” Mr. Mahdavi said. “Then we began to learn more, that there were other attacks.”
In the days that followed, Paris entered a state of emergency that precluded public assemblies, and Mr. Mahdavi described seeing Paris deserted save police officers and men in fatigues.
“I felt a bit like a zombie,” Mr. Mahdavi said. “I was walking, but my brain was somewhere else.”
He added that as he continued walking around the city aimlessly, he grew increasingly angry.
“France has always been seen as a land of art, culture, and music,” he said. “It’s not a very aggressive country. Why did this happen? Innocent people were at a concert, and people came in and shot them just like you might squish ants.”
“When it was attacked, I think the whole world felt an additional level of sympathy,” he went on. “Globally, you can feel the anger over what happened.”
Mr. Mahdavi’s son, Victor Mahdavi ’16, who was raised in Paris and lived there through sixth grade, spent that night busily messaging his father and childhood friends. He said that technology, including Facebook’s “Safety Check” feature, helped him stay connected to his friends and family in such a frightening time.
Lily Himmelman ’16, who has family from her mom’s side living in Paris, first learned about the attacks through a notification on her phone.
“I mostly just felt shock,” Lily said. “It was one of those things that you never expect to happen. It was scary because of my family there—I immediately thought of them.”
Lily’s aunt and uncle were able to contact her and assure her they were safe. Lily found out later, however, that one of her former school friends had been at Bataclan Concert Hall, and although she survived, eight of her friends were killed.
“You never expect anyone you know personally to be affected like that across an ocean,” Lily said. “It makes it more horrifying and personal when you hear about someone our age going to a concert and ending up dead. It’s hard to wrap your mind around.”
Ms. Roucher-Greenberg, who spoke to her classes about the attacks when school recommenced Monday, said she urged students to keep fear out of mind and instead embrace the value of human life.
“How do you continue living in tolerance and without fueling hatred?” she asked her class, adding, “More hatred isn’t going to solve anything.”
In addition to the Paris attacks, ISIS has also claimed responsibility for other recent violence in the Middle East, including two suicide bombings that took the lives of 43 civilians in Beirut and the crash of a Russian airliner in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where a bomb is believed to have brought down 224 civilians.
Although President Obama has condemned the Paris killings and the United States has aided France’s retaliatory efforts by supplying intelligence on ISIS targets in Syria, it is unclear whether the Paris attacks will altogether alter the nature of U.S. opposition to ISIS, according to The New York Times. The Obama administration stresses that it doesn’t foresee American boots on the ground fighting ISIS.