Nobody in the UK can possibly have missed hearing about the horrors that kicked off in Paris on the 13th November, when a number of coordinated terrorist attacks in the French capital claimed the lives of at least 129 people. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks, which has consequently led to a number of French air strikes against ISIS bases in Syria in retaliation.
Social media has naturally gone mad, and I was not slow to jump on the bandwagon either, piggybacking the #portouverte hashtag on Twitter to offer support, and adding a French flag filter to my Facebook profile picture, along with many of my friends. Which, now I’ve written it down, is actually kind of embarrassingly lame.
My ‘rents have a house in France that they had just returned to the day before the attacks, closely missing their chance to get out before the borders closed; this, in combination with the fact that I have many friends living in France (both French and other nationalities) made it all feel very close to home for me, and I suspect, many others.
However, a few things that have occurred since the original social media shitstorm kicked off have given me pause in terms of my very public hand-wringing for Paris and France in general, and this is something that I am going to analyse in a little more detail below.
First of all, I did, and still do, find the terrorist attacks on Paris deeply alarming, shocking and horrific. I feel deeply for the French people, I feel empathy, a level of grief, fear and shock, all of the usual human things. These reactions are all fine and natural, and shared by most of the rest of the British public too.
However, a good friend of mine who currently lives in France and is working full time as a volunteer at the Calais refugee camp questioned his wider friend group on Facebook about why so many of us had changed our profile images to the French flag, when in Syria, the daily death toll is 200, just for starters. Where were all of the Syrian flags? Do we only care about horrific things like this when it happens to mainly white people, close to home?
I think that the answer to this is that yes, in some ways we do. I think that to an extent, it is a natural response to find that the Paris attacks, on a country where many of us have friends or relatives and that even more of us have visited, naturally bring out a strong reaction in Brits.
Comparatively, many of us are only peripherally aware of things like the ongoing war and death toll in Syria, a country that most of us have not been to nor know anyone from. It feels far removed from us and whilst this is not cool, it is natural that unless one has friends or relatives in Syria, an attack on France is both metaphorically and literally, very close to home for us.
Also, I don’t think that showing support and empathy for France negates the ability to have support and empathy for other people too.
However, there’s something else that is close to home for us in the UK too; the Calais refugee camp, just thirty miles from our shores. Here, around 6,000 people, including hundreds of lone children, are about to spend the winter in tents and benders with no government support and a lot of active hostility.
I find the Paris attacks deeply shocking and reprehensible. But what I find even more deeply shocking and reprehensible, is that there is a huge refugee camp of displaced persons and war victims right here on our own doorstep, in my own lifetime. Worse, most of the UK is either only peripherally aware of it, or worse, outright hostile to it, and the people within it.
My above-mentioned friend who has dedicated his retirement to helping with the logistics of aid going into the camp and assisting the people there has, in the few weeks he has been there, been tear gassed by the French police, and related tales of other camp volunteers being refused service in local shops in Calais too, among other things.
Another friend of mine who works in children’s services also went out to the camp recently to try to find and get help for the displaced lone children in the camp, and during his trip, helped to save several children from a fire that broke out-none of which even made a dent in the UK’s news.
Now, it would appear that the Calais refugee camp is being targeted by certain French folk for reprisals against the ISIS attacks, based on a logic that I cannot fathom. The very people who have previously been ISIS victims, who have been left homeless, destitute, and stateless by them, are being attacked by people from the very country that they hoped might help them, in reprisal for an attack by their common enemy? What the very fuck?
Finally, three days after the Paris attacks happened, I was deeply disturbed by yet another Facebook post by a good friend of mine, an expat Brit who has lived in a small Normandy village with his partner and their young child for several years now. They have integrated into the local community, their daughter goes to school there, and to all intents and purposes, France is now their home.
My friend’s partner is a woman of colour, and their daughter is mixed race. On the Monday morning after the attacks, she took their daughter to school as usual, and when she got to the school gates, said bonjour to the other mums as normal-and not one of those fucking women would reply to her, nor even make eye contact with her.
BECAUSE OF THE COLOUR OF HER SKIN.
Now my friends’ little girl goes to a school where her mother has already been judged and found wanting, at a glance, due to her skin tone. That little girl sits in a classroom surrounded by her white peers, who are already learning at home that people of colour are to be viewed with suspicion, and as one group, with one goal, one nefarious aim, and one intention: Terrorism.
She lives next to a village where the English expat community is around 50%, and yet nobody thinks that posters like this one the village bus stop are somehow hypocritical, because British expats in France are largely white. (Image courtesy of my friend’s FB feed).
I quietly removed the French flag filter from my profile picture at that point, because I was ashamed. Ashamed to show solidarity for a country that is turning on people of colour in that way, in the wake of their own horror. Has there not been enough horror already? Is revenge against innocents synonymous with national pride?
Clearly for some (but fortunately not all-I know that this is not representative of the views of most French people) it is, and I want no part of it.
Fuck #portouverte, if what it really means is “port ouverte as long as you’re white.” How about #illstandwithyou, for all of those other mothers, fathers and innocents, living without fault in a country that is hostile towards them because of their religion or race.
How about #Calaissolidarity, for the innocent victims of war, suffering from reprisals in the country that they hoped would help them.
How about we all just calm the fuck down, and stop bandwagon-jumping out of fear and anger.
I feel for Paris. I condemn the attacks, and those that perpetrated them. I am sad and angry and feel the greatest empathy for the French, I really do. But blaming the other victims of ISIS, those who have also lost family to them, and who are just as angry and scared as the nationals of their host country? I feel for them more.
If you want to find out more about what’s going on in Calais, why the refugees there need help, and what you can do to help, check out the following links:
And for anyone who wants to call me out on referring to the Calais displaced persons as refugees and not (usually economic) migrants? Listen to this poem entitles “Home” by Somali/British poet Warsan Shire, and wake the fuck up.
Peace out, y’all.