Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Coping with terror

As a university teacher I'm confronted with the after-effects of terror attacks in France. On Monday last week my classes were filled with zombies: unresponsive students with blank faces and no interest in anything. They had no interest in working, participating, discussing, thinking. It then didn't help that at midday our oral assessments were interrupted by a direction to go downstairs for a minute's silence for the victims of the Paris attacks. It was a case of persisting with basic classroom control and hoping that somehow classes would move beyond babysitting.

There was a noticeable psychological effect on students and as a teacher I needed to deal with this throughout the week. Sometimes it was necessary for me to acknowledge that they were behaving like zombies, tired and maybe a bit down. Sometimes it helped to initiate things by building a list of vocabulary around terrorism on the board so they could write about it. Sometimes classes needed a pep talk about how it's normal to feel tired and joyless in these situations but that life is often shit and always changing so there's a possibility that tomorrow will be better...so let's do our best and get on with it all.

My students range in age from 18-24 and it's the younger ones who seemed to find it hardest. Some of them may have known someone directly affected. Even Jean-Claude's son had two friends injured and a third was killed in the Bataclan massacre.

Last week the army were very present, momentarily. They were present on Tuesday at the Versailles train station but my students later explained they'd have been there for the assembly of elected members who were voting on whether the state of emergency would be extended to 3 months (it was). Odd really. The terrorists aren't bothering with politicians, they are killing ordinary people but it's the politicians who get the best and most expensive security.

Security guards or fire-safety staff are everywhere though. I'm constantly having to show my ID card and open my suitcase at every door on either campus. We've had 3 building evacuations in one and a half weeks (usually during important tests) and it's not funny since the buildings are normally so closed off we'd normally never get out during a really serious event. The supermarket in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines insisted we all open our jackets before we were allowed in; paranoid for explosive vests no doubt but a determined terrorist would always get through - maybe explode while we were all queuing up to show our coats?

Life has changed much more than it did after Charlie Hebdo. I myself am a burnt-out zombie; smothered by the 24/7 media reports and online forums. I'd already lost my joy for life and this isn't helping me to feel I have any modicum of control in my life.

This week the only sign of the army I saw was an empty army truck at the Versailles train station and one solo soldier with his automatic weapon. I know they have to be seen to be doing something but as the Prime Minister Manuel Valls pointed out months ago - we just have to learn to live with this. And frankly, the security presence is only symbolic. France is too bankrupt to do anything more.

When I was much younger it was the threat of nuclear war that had us nervous (and we still have reason to be). Yes, we have to adapt, sacrifice, let go of how we used to live. It's tiring and it doesn't come easily. It leaves negative traces in our subconscious, even those of us who live a few kilometers away from the Ile de France region. I often wonder what is happening to all the wounded still in hospital and feel grateful it's no-one I know. Poor Paris and poor all the other places that have suffered from these cretins. We need to wipe them out.

Photo taken from the internet