United we stand: St Andrews comes together in the wake of the Paris attacks

Illustration: Sibilla Grenon


Illustration: Sibilla Grenon
Illustration: Sibilla Grenon


It is a timeline of events that has now become infamous. In the late evening of Friday, 13 November, an escalating catastrophe of chilling and horrific events ripped through the French capital and brought the whole world to a standstill. The injured and deceased had not publically spoken out against ISIS; they were not protestors or activists. They were simply innocent, young citizens, of various nationalities and walks of life. enjoying the start of the weekend. Never could they or anyone else have imagined the carnage that would ensue. For the 130 people who lost their lives, and over 300 injured, many of whom remain in critical condition, the night started out like any other Friday evening.

At around 8:17 pm (GMT), an explosion caused by suicide bombers rang out outside the Stade de France where a football match was underway between France and Germany, with France’s president, François Hollande, in attendance. In the following hours, gunmen opened fire on the restaurants and bars, such as Le Petit Cambodage, Le Carrilon bar, La Casa Nostra and Belle Equipe bar. One group entered the Bataclan concert hall, where American rock group Eagles of Dead Metal were performing.

As confusion and disbelief momentarily reigned during the immediate aftermath, the news of a disaster in Paris reached all four corners of the globe, including St Andrews. With updates and videos of the attacks flooding in thick and fast, many followed the attacks in real time. Former St Andrews student Emilien Saugrin, who is now studying in Paris, says: “I’ve been shocked by the unprecedented scale of the attack.” As the hours slipped by, the full horrifying extent of the tragedy became apparent. Out and about in the town of St Andrews in the early morning, the usually pleasant atmosphere was chilled, with students replacing their light- hearted greetings with the one question: “Have you heard what’s happened in Paris?”

Martin Lyle, a recent St Andrews graduate who is currently living in Paris, talked about the moment he understood that something was wrong, saying: “I realised things were not right as I saw all the police cars going east and west along the Seine, and the dozens of Red Cross vans and ambulances speeding everywhere around me… It was a real state of emergency. I left work an hour late; if it hadn’t have been for that delay, I would have been in the area at the time of the tragedy. It hit me that it could have been me.”

As St Andrews is a university renowned for its international student body, many of its students were directly or indirectly affected by the atrocities. Third-year student Jacob Arnould said: “I have lots of close cousins in Paris who are around the same age as those who were killed. Like all young Parisians, they go out on Friday nights. My immediate concern was knowing if they were unharmed, as they didn’t all get back to me immediately. I went to bed at 3am that morning still waiting to hear from some of them, still not knowing.” Former St Andrews student Paul- Emile Delcourt, who is currently studying in Paris, said that in the days following the attacks: “Everyone is in a bit of a shock here. Many of my friends still are very worried about their own security, especially since the attacks targeted mostly young people. Everything is closed, the metro lines are empty. I think it is the saddest thing about all this, that these attacks not only killed so many people but also scared all Parisians. The lightness of life of [the] French lifestyle for which Paris is known has vanished.” Mr Saugrin echoed these thoughts about France’s damaged joie de vivre lifestyle and noted “the symbolism of such gruesome attacks which occurred in the heart of the so-called ‘City of lights.’” The effect was acute. “I felt my ‘Frenchness’ damaged,” he said.

Jonathan Bucks, previous editor of The Saint, described how he was also personally effected by the tragic events. Jonathan explained “I lived in Paris a few years ago, [and] have a cousin who lives very near the Bataclan”. Jonathan recalled being overwhelmed with emotion by “one particular photo from the Bataclan, taken from the stage minutes before the attacks began.” Seeing “a lot of beaming faces” in those precious moments before the attackers arrived was exceptionally moving.

In the days after the attacks, the University’s student body was at its best, displaying resilience and unity. The French Society organised a silent Pray for Paris Pier Walk. Gathering in St Salvator’s Quadrangle at 4 pm the next day, as the attendees, some in gowns, some in black and some in their everyday wear, proceeded towards the pier in silence as a French flag was held high at the front of the procession. The atmosphere was palpably different to the pier walks which take place every Sunday after the church service. Gone was the cheery post-mass atmosphere, the groups of friends laughing and chatting as they clustered down to the pier in gaggles. Quiet and muted the group walked, the only sound being the gowns flapping in the wind. But the silence said more than any words possibly could have. Early on Sunday morning, an event entitled ‘Stand United for Paris; Dress in Black’ took place, providing another means by which St Andrews students could show their respect, and mirrored such events which took place in major cities across the globe, such as New York, London and Sydney.

One portal that was not silent however was social media. For all their flaws and controversies, the various social networks which exist were a beacon in the darkness in the wake of the tragedy. Facebook enabled a feature allowing people who were in Paris to check in if they were unharmed following the attacks, alleviating the worry of their friends and family. The network also gave its users the opportunity to add a French flag filter to their profile picture. The anonymous discussion app Yik Yak changed its refresh screen to the French tricolour, with the phrase “One herd, one love.” (The top Yaks in St Andrews were concerned with expressing shock and condolences.) A simple black ribbon was added on the Google homepage with the tagline: ‘In memory of the Paris victims.’ Some feel that social media outlets provided a welcome sense of unity and togetherness, especially for those of us who were unable to do anything physically to aid in the aftermath of the attacks. This solidarity could be shared and participated in from around the globe.

However, second-year student Alexandra Georges-Picot expressed concern about the use of social media in this way. She says: “Although social media provides a form of unity, I think that it also has the power to detach solidarity from the actual horrors of the event. It is almost too easy add a ‘Pray for Paris’ filter to your profile picture. So much so that one does not even have to acknowledge the painful death of 130 people before they click. Ironically, they might forget to pray for Paris while they do.” Alexandra went on to say “Perhaps this shines through most clearly when we look at how fast the blue, white and red has blended and blurred into the background of Facebook. Just five days after the events, the profile pictures seem completely detached from their original meaning. It is as though Facebook is saying ‘#prayforparis? That is so last weekend.’ When did solidarity become a trend or form of self-promotion?”

The attacks were a sign that the violence in the Middle East had escalated so as to reach Europe. Mr. Lyle said: “It is all the more shocking that these attacks should happen in France, in Paris, because we have spent the last 200 years of our history creating and protecting a land in which these types of events should never happen. Yet these attacks undermine us, and they underpin how unbelievably fragile our peace is. You get a chill to your bone; your home is under attack. I began to realise how much it hurts when it happens to your hometown, to where you live, to the streets which you have walked in. It hits home, literally. My people and fellow citizens were being killed.”

Yet throughout these hours of terror, the message that France unwaveringly portrayed was one of unity and strength in the face of the terrorist attacks. It is often said that it is crises such as these that bring a community together, but Mr. Delcourt sadly noted that: “There is a great solidarity, but a solidarity in fear, which I find very disturbing.”

The question that now remains is how France will overcome this day of terror and what impact it will have on the country’s future. The answer is, of course, that there is only one thing to do: try to rebuild the community and do everything in our power to make sure that an atrocity like this does not happen again. Second-year student Dillon Yeh visited Paris in the week after the attacks. He said: “With extra airport security, expectation of the city was tense. And yet upon arrival it seemed like any other day here. Elderly patrons sitting at corner cafes, laughing children running on the street, commuters hurrying to work. But then you’re reminded of what occurred: assault-weapon carrying soldiers patrolling, national police security checks, Gendarmerie vehicles lining streets. In the distance, a siren is heard, and everyone turns their head.”

As Mr Lyle put it with the oft-used British phrase: “We must keep calm and carry on.” He added: “It is crucial to continue living life as usual, and not to give them what they want.” We should not give into “the fear, the pain, the trauma, the anger, that can divide, destabilise or threaten the core of a republic like France.” In the wake of the tragedy that has occurred, the message that France, and indeed the rest of the world, must now portray is that it will come together in the face of evil and violence, that we will not turn on our fellow citizens, and that above all, terrorism will not terrorize us.


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