These days, I often get asked if I feel safe in Paris. The city is on high terror alert but I force myself to think rationally. The attacks in Paris targeted our freedom and I sit firmly in the camp that believes that if we give in to fear, the terrorists have won.
Of course I was devastated by what happened in Paris last November. We were there that night, far enough away not to be caught up directly but close enough to feel the aftershock: sadness, disbelief and of course, fear. We were close enough to feel that it could have been us. The next day, we had lunch at a nearby crêperie. It somehow felt wrong to be going about as normal but we had no food at home and the shops were closed. We sat next to a woman with a sticker on her bag that said, on n’a pas peur, we are not afraid. Hours after Paris was forced to its knees, a modern-day Résistance had taken to the streets and I vowed to be part of it.
Indiscriminate, violent attacks feed our worst nightmares. It’s difficult to control or rationalise our feelings of fear and I am definitely jumpier than I was before. The armoured vehicles and military patrollers there to make us feel safer only remind us of a threat that is real. But what option do we have? To stay indoors where we can guarantee our personal safety? We all know that there is a higher chance of being killed in a car accident than falling victim to an act of terror. If you need a dose of perspective, this article by Wendy Perrin lays out the statistical risks superbly.
It’s true that an attack could happen anywhere at any time but you probably won’t be there when it does. Similarly, you probably won’t be struck by lightning or break your neck falling down the stairs. If you shudder to think that you could have been in Paris on the 13th of November last year, you should also think about what could have happened if you were on holiday in Italy when an earthquake claimed 250 lives, twice as many as were lost that night in Paris. You could have been one of the 150 people killed when a Germanwings plane was driven into a mountain face by a suicidal pilot or in South East Asia when the tsunami claimed its share of innocent lives. Does that mean we should not fly? That we shouldn’t explore the world or follow our dreams? To wrap ourselves up in cotton wool is to sacrifice our freedom. If you make the decision not to visit Paris because you are scared of terrorism, you will never watch the sun set over the River Seine and see the lights of the Eiffel Tower prick on when darkness falls. You will never get to wonder at how chic the women are in Place de Vendome or tell the story of the waiter who refused to serve your steak well-done. You will never gasp at the scale of the Château de Versailles and shake your head at how the building that is home to the Louvre just wasn’t big enough for Louis XIV and his court. If you never go to Paris, you will never get to dream of going back.
Paris is still the same as it was before – beautiful, multi-cultural, vibrant and resilient. It is at risk only as much as London, Berlin, Bangkok and Glasgow, because big cities and large gatherings will always present a potential target for terrorism. Security is tight and each day that passes without incident, we are safe. To stay at home is to surrender everything we hold dear. Don’t be scared of going to Paris, be scared of what it means not to.