Most of us can recall where we were when the news broke of the horrific attacks that befell the 10th and 11th arrondissements of Paris on that carefree Friday night, Nov. 13. And for those of us with loved ones in France, the instinctive need to grab a phone and hear their voices, to have some sort of reassurance that somehow, everything would be OK.
In Paris, the Presidency of the Republic declared a state of emergency and the reinstatement of border checks to ensure both the security of its citizens and the timely apprehension of those involved.
In Atlanta, the response was equally rapid. Our team implemented measures to ensure maximum security and vigilance for French schools, cultural centers and official offices in our jurisdiction. We diffused an emergency hotline set up by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs for victims’ families seeking information and help. Finally, with security and communications in place, we answered the strong, democratic demand to assemble.
Vigils were held across our jurisdiction — Atlanta, Charlotte, Charleston, Columbia, Nashville, Greenville, Raleigh, Mobile and Hattiesburg — to pay homage to the victims and their families. It was important for the French community to gather and grieve together, alongside our American friends, to find comfort in community and to do something, however small, to show that we are not afraid; we will not renounce our way of life; we stand united with our compatriots in France against extremism and hatred.
For most of us, it was national grief — grief for our beloved city, grief for innocence lost. For a few in our community, it was a personal grief, expressing a very personal, tangible loss.
In Atlanta, we were deeply moved by the love and support from the community — from the proactive measures of our building management, the Parmenter Group, that enabled us to quickly organize a safe and orderly event at the consulate, to the hundreds of people of all nationalities, political persuasions and religions who came to show their support of France, including state Rep. Scott Holcomb, Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall and members of the consular corps. We were so grateful for their presence and support.
In addition, the consulate received many messages of condolence from the community, among them, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Georgia Tech, Emory University and the Georgia Department of Economic Development. We welcomed many visitors who wished to sign our book of condolence, such as First Lady Sandra Deal on behalf of the governor.
Finally, dozens of messages, candles and flowers were left at the foot of the French flag, flying at half-mast outside our building, creating a spontaneous memorial from which the French community could find support.
I was personally quite moved by the symbolic gestures of solidarity demonstrated across Atlanta. City Council President Ceasar Mitchell led a minute of silence at a council meeting in presence of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. The Atlanta Hawks played the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, at their Sunday game against the Utah Utes, which included French player Rudy Gobert. And despite the bustle of the city, the tricolours of the Republic of France radiated into the night on the Georgia Aquarium, the downtown Ferris wheel, Atlanta City Hall, the Intercontinental Hotel and many other landmarks, reminding us that we were not alone.
Indeed, the historic French-American relationship is alive and strong. We need each other more than ever. Recently, French President François Hollande met with President Barak Obama to discuss an international coalition and future tactics in our united fight against terrorism. As the Nov. 13 attacks clearly demonstrated, extremism affects all of us. It is not a discriminator of persons or religions, as we are reminded by the 130 victims representing 19 nationalities. Our only way forward in this fight against terrorism is together in the respect of the law and our shared values.
Denis Barbet is consul general of France in Atlanta.
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