I have, like many, been watching the events unfolding in Paris with utter shock and horror.
The scenes of devastation, murder, suffering and pain are surreal, they are reminiscent of a film set and not the streets of a major European capital, and once more in France – one of our primary allies.
This was not just an attack on France: it was an attack on all of us. In the words of the Mayor of Paris (with whom I have little in common but on this, we are as one) this was an attack on our shared ‘universal values’ of freedom, democracy and decency.
We in London acutely feel the shock of this atrocity as many of us have spent time both working and on holiday in Paris; and because we have a large and vibrant French community now living amongst us in London.
In my ward, as in many wards in central London, the largest ‘minority’ population, as defined in the last census, is French. The French community here are our friends, customers and business partners, they have brought a light and vibrancy to this wonderful cosmopolitan city that is London.
I have been in contact with members of the French community since the ghastly events unfolded, many of whom are from Paris and have close family and friends still there. Their pain is palpable.
In January I wrote an open letter to the many French citizens in my ward and to the wider French community in London following the dreadful Charlie Hebdo attacks, making the following clear:
“I want to put on record that today I stand with you in this tragic and difficult time. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of all Londoners feel the same what ever their political affiliation, religion or background.
“We will never surrender to intolerance, hatred and bigotry. We will not tolerate violence and prejudice.”
I had hoped not to repeat these words and certainly not so soon. It is a matter of great sadness and regret that that is exactly what I now feel compelled to do.
Practically there is not much we as ordinary citizens can do to help, other than to keep the people of Paris, and especially the victims of this atrocity, in our thoughts and prayers. To comfort those who have been particularly affected and make it clear to all, as we did in those dark January days, that today, ‘je suis français’, today I am – we all are, French.
Vive La Republique! Vive La France!