An American Tourist’s Perspective on the Recent Events in Paris
BY SYDNEY SEXTON GUEST CONTRIBUTOR Sydney Sexton and her sister Delaney Sexton traveled to France over winter break and were in Paris during the day of the Charlie Hebdo shooting. Sydney recounts her story here.
When the terrorist attack happened in Paris on Jan. 7, my sister and I were visiting the Eiffel Tower, fifteen minutes away from the Charlie Hebdo office.We were completely unaware of the terrible scene that was happening nearby due to the fact that we had no Internet connection. The only reason we knew anything was wrong was that we both received a frantic text message from our mother wondering where we were. As the day went on, we did not notice any differences in the atmosphere. The Eiffel Tower was packed with tourists, the metro was busy as usual and the shopping malls were packed with eager customers ready for the annual January sales. However, on Wednesday night, 1,000 people, by my estimate, were booted off of our RER train and were stuck at the Torcy train station for 45 minutes in order for the rail company to do thorough security checks throughout the train. I had felt safe all day until this happened. To me, booting everyone off their trains and making them wait at the train station like a bunch of herded cattle makes them more of a target than anything. Most of the stranded mix of Parisians and tourists were nonchalant about the ordeal. Should everyone have been scared, though? They had not at that time caught the Kouachi brothers. Do we allow ourselves to live in fear or do we live our lives not worrying and just let things, even terrorist attacks, happen, as they will? The news was saying that the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack was “France’s 9/11.” I did not understand or realize the severity of the day’s events until my sister and I got back to our hotel and read and watched the news. The videos were graphic. In one of the many videos, a man cowers in the street while one of the Kouachi brothers stands over him and ends his life with no sympathy or regret.
The news quickly came out that the two suspects were Muslim. When I heard this, my heart sank. It seems that nowadays people are quick to make very broad and general assumptions about a large group of people based on some bad decisions made by a very small portion of said group. Remember that one does not define all. Only the individual can decide to cut out prejudice from his or her life. On Friday, Jan. 9, the Kouachi brothers were found and killed an hour or so after our flight took off from Charles de Gaulle. When we called my mother telling her we had landed in Atlanta, she was crying because she had heard all the flights were being diverted from the Paris airport because there had been reports that the suspected terrorists had rocket launchers. Also, there had been another man, Amedy Coulibaly, who executed a policewoman on Thursday, and was killed after he had taken hostages in a Jewish market. It seemed as if France and the rest of the world could breathe again. Needless to say, I was happy to be back in the United States. I know there are bad people here, too, but I feel safer in my own country. I wish I could provide a solution to the many problems Paris faced, but I am at a loss. I wish the world had peace like all the beauty pageant contestants wish for in Miss Congeniality. I wish my sister and I could just remember the best parts of our trip rather than thinking about the terror and craziness that happened during our last three days in France.