I have a conflicted relationship with Paris. It is a beautiful city, which unfortunately recalls bad memories. I was there on 9/11. Seeing the city attacked by terrorism has caused me a weird sense of deja-vu, even more because 36 hours after the events at the Bataclan theater I was leaving for Paris to attend a tradeshow for work.cartes badge

I have therefore has a chance to take a close look at the days following the horrible facts of November 13th and make my real-time considerations on the extraordinary resilience of the city, its strengths and the dangers it still faces.

My first consideration is that Paris has endured and has survived occupation from the Nazis. And this is true for great part of Europe, and it is a factor that is too often underestimated. Anyone who sees Europeans as pacifists and wimps is not considering recent history.

In the last century Europe has been devastated not by one, but by two World Wars in less than 30 years. If the first one massacred an entire generation on the battlefields, the second one viciously raged on the civilian population. Even those who did not suffer from violence certainly had to endure hunger.

The so-called pacifism of Europeans is nothing different from the memory of that time and the firm resolve not to escalate a similar conflict again in its territory. With the exception of the civil war in Yugoslavia and recent territorial quarrels of Russia with its neighbors (first Georgia and now Ukraine), Europe has managed to keep this promise done to its promise at the end of the world war.

Even though military from European countries are taking part in war operations (often labeled as “peace missions”) abroad, Europeans don’t have the feeling of being at war that is a constant background in the US. The war par excellence was World War II, and that is the ideological point of reference.

All of this to say that terrorism has already lost. It is true that we are a different generation from that of our grandparents, but the basic culture is the same. If the Nazis with their war (and ideological) apparatus didn’t win over France, how could a kamikaze strategy, intrinsically self-destructive, succeed?

Paris city crest, Fluctuat Nec Mergitur, appears on billdboards.

Paris city crest, Fluctuat Nec Mergitur, appears on billdboards.

What I have seen in Paris confirms the will to resist of the Parisians. Cafès and restaurants were  maybe not full, but certainly not empty. You could see it in the information billboards flashing telephone numbers of psychological support for witnesses of the attacks, support messages from the world, updates on security  measures, and most of all the city’s motto, Fluctuat Nec Mergitur: “tossed by the waves but not sunk”, like the ship in its crest.

Another important factor is that besides the isolated attacks reported by the media, I personally didn’t see anything that suggested a feeling of hostility directed towards the entirety of the Muslim population in France. The only potentially racist episode I observed was when the cab driver (who was black, btw) locked the doors of the car while approaching a family of gypsies that was sitting at the side of the road. It must also be said that the boy that was begging us for money for food was not particularly convincing, being both quite plump and engaged in eating a sandwich which looked bigger than him.

I am reporting this anecdote just to remember that despite what extremists of all kinds would want us to believe, we are not facing a scenario of a religious war, nor an ethnic conflict: the real daily tensions inside Europe are social and characterized by a complexity which cannot be solved with a Manichean attitude.

security checks

Security patting down exhibitors and visitors at the entrance of the tradeshow.

The dark side of the French stoicism consists in the temptation to react as if nothing had happened. This philosophy based on the principle that the show must go on brought, for example, the organizers of the tradeshow to enact the event as planned, safeguarding the short-term economical interests rather than the security of the participants. During the three days of the exhibit, not one word was spoken on the peculiar circumstances the city was living, not even when access to the event itself was complicated by the shut down of the underground service during the raid in Saint-Denis.

Pretending that a superficial pat down and a peek inside our bags are sufficient measures in preventing an attack, just like ignoring the social conflicts that lead to the radicalization and training of young idiots and psychopaths of every ethnicity (let’s not forget the foreign fighters leaving for Syria) is a road that seems to inexorably lead to new attacks. The fact that the French authorities had been warned of the danger and ignored or underestimated the message seems to fit this dangerous pattern.

We are still in time, however, to respond to the tide of violence we are facing with reasoned actions rather than conditioned responses. The more our reaction will be reasoned, the more it will be effective.