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Borders don’t exist: University of Maine reacts to Paris attacks

Students stand in solidarity with victims of global terrorism at a candlelight vigil hosted by the French Club on the Fogler Library steps, Tuesday, Nov. 17.
Students stand in solidarity with victims of global terrorism at a candlelight vigil hosted by the French Club on the Fogler Library steps, Tuesday, Nov. 17.

On Nov. 13, the news of multiple bombings and shootings in Paris, France shocked the world. To the surprise of very few, responsibility for the attacks was later claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who has been perpetrating attacks like these worldwide since their conception in 2013.

With attacks preceding these, and many more promised in videos and statements released by ISIS, much of the world is deeply affected by the violence and the implications it raises. The University of Maine, seemingly secluded in Orono, is no different.

Twenty-three percent of Maine’s population, according to 2014 Census data, claims to be ethnically French. Coupling that with a northern border with Canada, French is the second most common language in the Pine Tree State.

The UMaine Department of Modern Languages and Classics holds numerous discussion tables for foreign languages. Students who speak French, Spanish and German are encouraged to engage in conversation with their peers over lunch in Little Hall. Many members of the French Club attend the French portion of these events.

Adam Shaw is an undecided second-year student, who comes from a French-speaking family in Fort Kent. Shaw spoke softly about his recollection of the attacks, with every word seemingly weighing heavy on him.

Shaw said that he saw the news as it broke on France 24 En Direct, a live French news outlet on YouTube. The news kept getting worse as he watched.

“There were 10 people dead. By 5 p.m., it was 16. An hour and a half later, it was up to 35. I went to Woodman’s, and then it was like 150. It just kept getting worse and worse,” Shaw said.

The death toll of the attacks now stands at 129, just slightly lower than Shaw’s estimate. Nearly 350 were injured, almost 100 critically. Three Americans are known to have been injured or killed in the attacks. A man and a woman are being treated for non-life threatening injuries, while 20-year-old Nohemi Gonzalez, a student at Long Beach University, was killed during the attacks.

The event drew comparison to the terrorist attacks in 2001 that targeted the Twin Towers in New York City. While Shaw made the comparison, he said that the two attacks were very different in the amount of terror that was forthcoming.

“It was definitely not as intense as 9/11 for me, the thing about 9/11 is, boom, it happened, and then it was debris. The immediate danger wasn’t really there. But for them, the danger and the terror kept going for them,” Shaw said.

Sophia Lataille, a fourth-year French and secondary education student, described the initial panic she felt. Lataille was a live-in nanny in Paris for a year.

“I was really scared for all my friends over there. The number just kept rising. It was a lot of fear, waiting to hear back from people,” Lataille said.

Lataille was able to account for her friends and host family using Facebook’s newly introduced feature — ‘Safety Check’ — where people can mark themselves safe from dangerous events.

Shaw recalled a post that circulated on Facebook. This post was headed by a picture of a blood-stained vest, with a recount of the events that happened at the Bataclan concert venue during the attack from a female attendant.

“You can really relate to the human element of things, no matter what language you speak or where it is. I read this thing, with the girl’s white vest. She’s laying on the ground playing dead for two hours because she was terrified. She had brains splattered on her, and one guy covered her head with his body so she didn’t get shot,” Shaw said.

“She heard last words from people that were dying, couples talking to each other, saying their last ‘I love yous’. It doesn’t matter what language you speak or where you’re from, you feel that,” Shaw continued.

France has already taken military action against ISIS in the Middle East, reportedly destroying two ISIS sites in Raqqa, Syria on Nov. 14. French police also led nearly 150 counter-terrorism raids in the country just a few days later. It’s no secret that, as the world’s foremost military power, the United States will ramp up the fight against ISIS.

“I would not be surprised to see the United States and the [United Nations] getting more involved,” Brayden said.

Shaw explained the polarizing effect the attacks had on the world, saying panic and terror transcend every language border.

“Borders don’t exist with that human element stuff, no matter what country it is or where they live. Everybody feels that. They were supportive of us during 9/11, I think it’s great they’re getting support,” Shaw said.


A crowd of more than 50 UMaine students, faculty, staff and news media gathered at dusk, Tuesday, Nov. 17, for a candlelight vigil in a move of solidarity for not only those affected by the attacks in Paris, but for others affected globally by terrorism.

Hosted by the French Club, the vigil featured speeches by French Club President Mitchel Roberge and Vice President of Student Affairs, Robert Dana, who called for solemn remembrance for the victims of terrorism.

“What a beautiful sight to see the lights of hope shining here in front of me,” Dana began.
“For the University of Maine this is a moment of deep reflection, and when we consider the horrors that are occurring across the globe, particularly with what just happened now in Paris where we’ve all seen it in the most vivid of technicolor, our hearts ache, and they should ache.”

Dana in his speech not only called for reflection, but an end to bigotry in holding only the terrorists accountable for their actions. While many were quick to shame Muslims in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris, Dana argued this is not the appropriate course of action.

“I ask you to look inside and find warmth and comfort [not only] in this community, but in your heart, and to blame the people that perpetrated this crime, but don’t blame a class of people. Don’t blame Muslims Don’t blame people who are different than us. Don’t blame people who we don’t know,” Dana said. “For the haters of the world, for the bigots of the world, for the people who have turned their cheek against humanity, let us reach out to them and see if we can begin to shape the loving kindness, careness, that the world needs, that the globe needs.”

Co-President of French Club, Mitchel Roberge, right, stands with Grace Weise, middle, at a candlelight vigil to honor victims of terrorism, Tuesday, Nov. 17. Sophia Lataille, left, also co-president of French Club stands with them.
Co-President of French Club, Mitchel Roberge, right, stands with Grace Weise, middle, at a candlelight vigil to honor victims of terrorism, Tuesday, Nov. 17. Sophia Lataille, left, also co-president of French Club stands with them.

Lataille, who was present at the vigil, spoke about its organization and goals.

“We wanted to give the entire community a chance to gather in solidarity to not only support those affected by the Paris attacks, but also to support all those affected by terrorism worldwide,” Lataille said in an email. “Many members of French Club, including myself, have close ties to France and to the city of Paris.”

Lataille echoed Dana’s sentiment that is important to take a stand against terrorism on a global scale.

“Part of our aim in planning the vigil was to gather members of our community in solidarity for Paris, but also for all affected by terrorism throughout the world,” Lataille said.

Among the crowd was Yvane Ingabire, a business management student graduating in December and a native of Burundi.

Ingabire emigrated from Burundi, a country experiencing its own struggles with political corruption and widespread poverty, to Portland, Maine with her family six years ago.

“Everything that’s happening now around the world is [heartbreaking] and I want to support my student classmates, everyone, because I know what they’re going through,” Ingabire said. “That is also happening in my home country, so I want to be there for them because I know how hard it is for them when they are across the country, across the seas.”

Despite criticism of news media heavily focusing on the attacks in Paris — when terror attacks occurred around the same time in Baghdad, Iraq and Beirut, Lebanon — Ingabire believed it was important to focus attention on Paris because a devastating attack in a major Western city helps bring the issues occurring in the Middle East to the front lines of Western thought.

“I feel like a lot of people know what’s going on in Paris other than know what’s going on in other countries. I think it’s more about recognizing what’s happening,” Ingabire said. “Of course, social media might not be advanced in other countries, which basically helps to put the war out there. I feel like the more people communicate the more people will know what’s happening.”

“Around the World”

The attacks in Paris weren’t an isolated occurrence. The Parisian bloodshed marks just one of numerous instances of recent social terror perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Just a day prior to the strikes in Northern France, in Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut, two suicide bombers killed just over 40 people, with several hundred non-fatal injuries reported.

The killings occurred in a manner similar to those in Paris, with city streets targeted on an otherwise normal Thursday evening. The two bombers responsible, one of whom was tackled by Lebanese father of two Adel Tormous, were eventually identified by ISIS as members of the organization.

“Compared to the rest of the middle east, Lebanon has been living in relative peace. It is a horrific attack on innocent civilians, no different than the attack on Paris,” Habib Dagher, a faculty member in the UMaine’s Engineering department of Lebanese descent, said.

“ISIS uses terror for political aims. Their stated reason is that the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah is attacking Sunni Muslims in Syria. Therefore, ISIS said they attacked Shiite neighborhoods in Beirut in retaliation,” Dagher continued. “There is no possible excuse to justify slaughtering innocent civilians [whether] in Beirut or Paris or anywhere else in the world.”

Dagher is referring to the reason ISIS officials offered for their attack in Beirut — information which can offer insight into how and where these terror groups may strike next.

“Who would have thought that these kinds of atrocities would be happening in the 21st  Century?” Dahger said.

Millions of Americans, in the wake of these tragedies, have asked the very same question.

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