We Are All Parisians, Again

There can be no freedom anywhere if Paris is a prisoner.
The Eiffel Tower lit with the blue, white and red colors of the French flag on Nov. 23, 2015, a week after a series of deadly attacks in Paris.
The Eiffel Tower lit with the blue, white and red colors of the French flag on Nov. 23, 2015, a week after a series of deadly attacks in Paris.
Christian Hartmann/Reuters

WASHINGTON -- Once again, we are all Parisians.

Once again, the ideals of freedom and peace are under attack on the very streets that helped give birth to the idea that you can’t have one without the other in modern life.

Once again, President Barack Obama went to a podium in Washington to declare American solidarity with France -- and to vow that an attack on French society was an attack on the very ideas of decency, modernity and sanity.

And once again, the world -- or that part of it that doesn’t love murder and hate peace -- must rise up and say, simply: Stop.

As a chilly November night fell in Washington on Friday, a somber Obama made his way to the White House press room. He looked grim, as though there had been a death in the family.

And there was: more mayhem in Paris, more deaths, and more body blows to a city and country that helped invent the modern ideals of “liberty, equality and fraternity.”

France, the mournful but determined president said, is the “oldest ally” of the United States, and Paris represents the “timeless values of human progress” at a moment when they are under attack.

Our old ally, he added, had been a crucial partner with the U.S. in “counter-terrorism” campaigns around the globe. What Obama didn’t say, but implied, was that France in general and Paris in particular were suffering as a result.

So their fight is ours.

The apparently coordinated attacks around Paris, which officials described as terrorism, resulted in dozens of deaths.

Obama’s counterpart, President Francois Hollande, appeared on French television shortly after the U.S. leader spoke.

He looked more shaken than saddened. He declared that the borders of the country had been closed, and that the army had been summoned to Paris. After past terrorism incidents -- the Charlie Hebdo and grocery store attacks, and a recent violent incident on a high-speed train -- Hollande had sounded like chief executive as police commissioner.

This time, he sounded like a wartime leader -- and so, in muted tones, did Obama.

The terrorists, Hollande said, wanted to use blood and chaos to scare the people of France and, by extension, other democratic, secular countries throughout the world.

But, he had to concede on Friday night, “there are reasons to be afraid.”

Indeed, there are.

How, one wonders, will France be able to host next month’s colossal global climate meeting, which is expected to draw thousands of delegates from scores of countries?

How can France close its borders at a time when thousands of refugees from Syria and elsewhere are seeking safety there? On the other hand, what kind of safety can they expect?

If France is the ultimate “soft target” -- an open city in a defiantly secular country -- how can it protect itself in this new war? An open city of sidewalk cafes and public parks, Paris is, in its layout and lifestyle, the embodiment of the ideals now threatened by violence.

The answer to these and other questions is simple and difficult at the same time.

Fear will simply have to be replaced by calm, bravery and life as Paris knew it. Things will change, but not enough to kill the eternal flame that burns in the City of Light.

Why? Because there can be no freedom anywhere if Paris a prisoner. The world knows that. The world learned that lesson twice in the last century.

We will all learn it again if we have to, and it looks like we have to.

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