French at Saint Michael’s reflect on Paris attacks

November 19, 2015

While recent terrorist attacks in Paris were one day of horror that properly has commanded world attention, it’s important to remember that for refugees in Syria and other troubled parts of the world, “this is their life every day” with bombs and shootings all around them.

That was a point made by Meggane Grand, a Saint Michael’s College student from France, during a panel discussion in Dion Family Student Center Thursday afternoon titled “A Conversation on Terrorism in France and Lebanon: Reflections by French and Lebanese citizens on their experience dealing with terror at home while living abroad.” About 100 people attended, including many students.

Grande, a varsity Alpine skier from the French city of Grenoble, was part of the hastily organized event, sponsored by: cabinet leaders Dawn Ellinwood of Student Life and Karen Talentino of Academic Affairs, Student Life, Global Studies, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and the Applied Linguistics Department. It was part of the “Global Conversations Luncheon Series” designed to deepen the internationalization of the Saint Michael’s campus and provide the community with a venue for cross-national understanding, international awareness, and dialogue about global issues.

Moise Saint Louis, associate dean of students and director of the Center for Multicultural Affairs and Services, introduced the panel, emphasizing the importance of realizing always, but especially during tense times like these, that the  “other” we might be tempted to demonize is really us. Panelists largely agreed that while they might not have many specific profound things to say on the matter, it was important just to be present as a community in solidarity with the victims and standing against terrorism.

Panelists were:

Laurence Clerfeuille, an assistant professor of French in the Department of Modern Languages & Literature for four years at Saint Michael’s. Her research focuses on historical representations in contemporary Haitian fiction. She teaches language, culture and literature courses on the Francophone world. She also serves as a Board Member at the local chapter of the Alliance Française in VT, and many members of the group attended the discussion.

Meggane Grand, an international student from Grenoble France. She’s a sophomore with a double major in political science and economics, part of the Honors Program and a member of the Saint Michael’s College Alpine Ski Team.

Thomas Boullier, an international student from Paris who is pursuing a degree in economics with a business minor. He has always lived in the center of Paris, and often spends time in the area where the tragedies occurred. He has been a frequent visitor to the Bataclan, the concert hall where the hostage situation happened. His family lives in the center of Paris where most of the terrorist attacks took place.

Alexandre Mohbat is an international student from Beirut, Lebanon/Sagesse majoring in Business Administration. He was a member of the Olympic Ski team representing his nation. He is currently a member of the Saint Michael’s Alpine Ski Team.

Mohbat, who is a Lebanese Christian, talked about how he attended a Christian elementary school and so didn’t have much interaction with Muslims until he attended a Muslim high school and got to know some individuals better. He and the other panelists spoke of the importance of not stereotyping an entire group based on religion.

Boullier spoke of being very familiar with the neighborhood where the attacks happened, noting how it is among the most multicultural and vibrant cosmopolitan areas, attracting young people to arts and culture. John Izzi, a Saint Michael’s professor who lives part of the year in Paris, said that perfectly explains the terrorists choosing it to attack, since the supposedly corrupt and decadent Western culture represents all that the terrorists abhor in their ideology.

Clerfeuille stressed that she spoke just for herself, but believed that the reaction of the radical right in France is just what ISIS wants, in order to drive more division and make people change their lives out of fear, rather than having France unified. The program included a long question and answer session. One point heard several times was that Westerners must avoid the trap of playing into ISIS’s hands by alienating Muslims in Europe or driving a wedge between Muslims and Europeans, since that’s exactly the terrorists’ aim.

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