2015 through the lens of the French Résistance


2015 has been a year that has shocked the world. From Syria to Lebanon, Kenya to Nigeria, hundreds of abductions, killings, bombings, and murders have taken place. In a world where instability reigns, it is hard to know where the road will lead next. Politicians have called out from the pulpit to address issues such as immigration, our ever-increasing deficit, and, at least from the standpoint of the United States, restoring the “American Dream.” But what dream can exist without there being a guarantee of relative peace on the global scale – or even at home? It’s illusory. It truly is a dream – it is at present out of reach, and more importantly, out of touch with the current state of affairs in the world.

The threat that we as world citizens are exposed to every day is ever-growing and ubiquitous. A wide range of social classes, age ranges, occupations, and ideologies have been put face-to-face with danger. And though this has been the bleak reality for so many across the globe in the past decades, Westerners are beginning to fear the acts of terrorism that continue to loom over our daily lives.

The attacks in Paris this year have struck a chord in the hearts of many, including myself. Charlie Hebdo will be forever immortalized not simply for the mixed feelings surrounding the content of the cartoons themselves, but as the door re-opening to large-scale attacks in the “Western zone.” Two days later, the taking of hostages in the Hyper Cacher store in Paris shocked the world yet again. In the midst of the January cold, the internet was ablaze with supporters, protesters, and critics of the media surrounding the events. And here we are in a very similar position at the end of the year. A crisis on Friday the 13th where blood was spilled in the name of fanaticism, not faith.

As a researcher of the French Résistance, as well as a university lecturer in French Language, I have often been asked for my opinion on events that unfold relating to the Francophone world. I even had the misfortune of starting the Winter 2015 semester teaching the day after the Charlie Hebdo attack. Students were confused and as a whole entirely sympathetic to those who had lost their lives. Opening my e-mails this morning, I equally had received two concerned messages from students hoping that my friends and family were all right after the attacks. And though I am only one person, I do try to quell many concerns in my own little way.

But these questions have been evocative of the connections between what has proven to be very timely research and the modern state of affairs. The echoes of the past reverberate to the present, and it befits the current questions that are floating in the air today. What should we do?

1940. A dark shroud cast itself over Paris.

The click of boot heels echoed across the streets, as Parisians found themselves under an occupied government. The southern regions of France fell into the hands of the Vichy puppet government. A quiet chaos swept the newly divided country, and those who were scorned by the new National Socialist system tried to slip through the cracks of society to find freedom in other countries or through other identities. Instead of a night of terror, the French were faced with what amounted to be years of living within the shadows, required to submit to an ideology and system of government that radically changed the freedoms that had once been clearly laid out in the objectives of post-revolutionary France: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.

Yet even as the French were under the thumb of an authoritarian occupant, many chose to echo a resounding no. They took ownership of hiding in the shadows and resisted. They fought for what they believed in. They united in creating a clandestine press. They established networks to undermine a system that pushed the citizens into a state of fear. Old enemies found solidarity across party lines, across faiths, and across regional differences for a common goal – Liberté.

Imagine if those who fought for French liberation had the tools that lay at our feet today? The incredible connection the world has found through globalization and instantaneous technology might have allowed for those who fought for freedom to do so in an even more sophisticated manner. Though not every citizen had the courage to combat directly against the regime, the common citizen played their part in the best way they could, no matter how modest.

Many of the actions taken by the Résistance movement in 1940s France can very well inspire us in the modern age as to how we can do our part to fight back against acts of terrorism as we have seen this week. Distributing clandestine press could translate into sharing important information and news articles through social media in the modern age. Fighting against the propaganda imposed on the citizens could translate into becoming educated on the subject and not simply jumping to conclusions when a terror attack has struck. Both situations required a certain sensibility – an open door should someone need assistance in a tragedy and a certain level of knowledge of how to defend and protect oneself to the best of one’s ability.

It is wrong to take a fully utopian perspective and imagine a perfect world that could exist if ‘everyone would just get along.’ Everyone won’t just get along. Humans are born with a competitive nature that drives them to try to surpass others through natural instinct. People who hold certain ideologies will always be in diametric opposition to someone else. And there is certainly someone who will always dislike what you do, no matter how righteous or just you might think it is.

Therefore, the best way to resist against terrorism, hate, anger, and prejudice is through solidarity. Though you might disapprove of what another might have to say, that person should possess a right to liberty and equality within society to express themselves in a way that does not mortally harm another citizen, nor place another citizen in a position where their basic liberties could be compromised or reduced.

Let us do our best, then, to minimize hatred and maximize understanding. Resist against those who wish to compromise the safety and security of humanity. Stand up against those who spread enmity. Educate, don’t retaliate. Fight towards the liberation of humanity, towards a world that values all of the individual pieces that combine to create life’s many-hued mosaic. For though you may be only one person, only one light can help us see better through the darkness.

Liberté pour tous. 

Claire-Marie Brisson

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