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Paris attacks: 'Race and religion made no difference'

A COUNTRY IN MOURNING: A member of the public cries at a vigil for the victims of the Paris attack

FOR FOUR years I lived in rue Fontaine au Roi where 14 people lost their lives on Friday (November 13).

Around 129 people have lost their lives in total following attacks at the Bataclan, the Stade de France, Boulevard Voltaire, rue Bichat and Alibert, rue de Charonne and rue Fontaine au Roi. May they rest in peace.

One of my friends, Claire, was in a bar nearby.

She recalled to me what happened: "We were in a bar two streets away. We heard gunshots and we took cover in the bar for two hours. People were frightened, some crying. We were receiving news of the situation through our phones. Once it was safe to go, we all gathered at someone’s flat. We were too scared to walk alone on the streets."

When I woke up the morning after, what seemed like a weird joke turned into a proper nightmare.

In London, life goes on. How can I blame them? It's human nature to be affected by events close to us. Empathy can only get us so far. I would have the same reaction.

However, I am surprised by how shaken and powerless I feel.

I am Ivorian and also French but I tend to feel ambivalent about the latter. I didn't leave France on very good terms. Having to fight everyday for my identity to be acknowledged, for my right do the job I want and be respected in my birth country was too much for me.

But today, more than ever, I can't deny that I'm French and it is a part of my identity that won't go.

The areas targeted were multicultural and full of life, similar to Dalston in east London.

I always loved my neighborhood, Belleville. After all, it's where people danced in the streets when Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency ended.

Earlier this year, the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Casher attacks in January shook France. It was an attack on the freedom of speech, on journalists, an elite fiercely protected.

The attacks on November 13, were random and brutal, showing that no matter your race, religion or job, anyone could be a victim. These were just normal people having fun on a Friday night.

For example, the two Tunisian sisters Halima and Houda Saadi who were killed while celebrating a birthday on the terrace of La Belle Epique bar in the Rue de Charonne in the 11th district.

Or their brave friend, Frenchman Ludovic Boumbas, originally from the Congo, who threw himself in to a hail of bullets in a bid to save them.


VICTIMS: (l-r) Houda Saadi, Ludovic Boumbas and Halima Saadi

In Belleville, there is Chinese church next door to a Jewish school, a refurbished hostel for Malian and Senegalese migrants as well as a Mosque nearby.

Many people who died during the attacks were of Black, Arab and Asian descent.

One of the bars targeted, the Carillon, has been owned by a family of Berber descent for decades. This is the real Paris, the one you barely see in the media.

I was four the last time a big terrorist attack happened in Paris, the 1995 bombings in Saint Michel. For my generation, the 2015 attacks have destroyed any kind of security we could have. There is nowhere we can be safe, whether in our homes or in the streets.

I try to make sense of the inexplicable.

ISIS thrives on that theory that they are fighting a holy war against everyone.

A state of terror means that France and other western countries are at war, an invisible war where everyone can be a threat and anyone can be a victim. These attack trigger an Islamophobic backlash in the West and a stronger security policy.

Marine Le Pen, a potential candidate for French right-wing party Front National made a speech on Saturday in which she said that France must expel foreigners preaching radical Islam as well as having more control over its borders.

Both Sarkozy and the Prime Minister Manuel Valls agree that we are "at war against terrorism".

On Sunday, November 15, France launched a massive airstrike in Syria.

Demonstrations have been held in various French cities such as Lille, where a group of right-wing activists tried to hijack it. Thankfully, they were thrown out.

Things are not back to normal in France, but life goes on for French people. It has to.

But beyond the solidarity with French people, we need to do the same in other countries.

Westerners tend to see non-white people dying in Asia, Africa and the Middle East as commodities.

ISIS and other terrorist groups kill people all around the word.

Around 43 people died in Beirut a day before the Paris attacks. In Cameroon, four children were slaughtered and eight kidnapped by Boko Haram.

In April, the Kenyans attacks happened, killing 147 people.

Suddenly, what we see on the news in foreign countries happen to us as well. I am black, but I am also a Westerner and I am aware of my privilege.

The French flags have been raised in many cities, spreading in profile pictures on social media but what would really make a difference if we start holding our governments accountable for the wars they start abroad to secure their political and economical interests and fund extremist groups.

In Paris, people are trying to get on with their daily lives. We will overcome it, as always.

But we need to be smarter than giving in to xenophobia. Islamophobia is not the answer.

Aude Konan is a French Ivorian freelance journalist living in London. She writes about race, science, politics and gender

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