Paris natives reflect on Friday's attacks

When Julie Della-Maria first learned of the terror attacks in Paris the night of Nov. 13, she immediately thought of her brother, who lives near where one of the attacks took place, and then the vast distance between him and her native France, and where she lives now in Sykesville. They were able to connect the next day, to her great relief. Her brother was safe, but deeply affected.

"He was in shock, describing the aftermath — people screaming, hurt, terror, terrorized — you are not ready to have a terrorist war on your sidewalk," she said. "War is a concept for most people. And it should always stay a concept, not happen while you buy your baguettes or when you walk your dog."


Even having heard his voice and knowing he is safe, Della-Maria said it's still hard to be so far away from her brother, her city, and her country at a time like this.

"It's a very helpless feeling that I think each and every ex-pat is experiencing now, to be far from them," she said, "far from their loved ones."

Della-Maria is not the only person with loved ones in Paris on Friday, Nov. 13, when 132 people were killed by attackers wielding automatic weapons and wearing suicide bombs, for which the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has taken credit.

Hélène Taylor is the owner of the French Twist Café in Sykesville, where Della-Maria is the director of marketing, and another Parisian living abroad, whose entire family — her uncle, cousins, brother and father — still live in her home city. She also waited with her anxieties Friday night until her family confirmed they were safe.

"We were really worried about our families," Taylor said. "I didn't hear from my dad until 3 a.m. … But everybody is fine. Julie, her family and her friends are fine, so we can breathe."

Social media was a great help, according to Taylor, who gave Facebook a lot of praise for its Safety Check feature, which allowed many of her loved ones to let her know they were OK.

It's a feature that proved useful for Martine Motard-Noar, a professor of French at McDaniel College, as well. As a professor at McDaniel since 1988, Motard-Noar said it's not just her own family and extended family she was concerned about, but the students she's had over the years who have emigrated to Paris to live and work, or even those alums who simply write to tell her they are finally making it to her home city.

"There was one student of mine from many years ago who had texted me saying: 'Oh my God, I'm finally going to get there. Only spending a few days but it's going to be great,' " Motard-Noar said. "And indeed he did make it, but he arrived Saturday, the day after. So I was eager to see that everything was OK."


While her specialty is French literature, Motard-Noar is currently teaching a class on current events in France. She said the sad irony is that her class began the semester discussing the Jan. 7 murder of 11 people at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, "and are going to bookend the semester, unfortunately, with this."

One of the things Motard-Noar and her class have done is compare the ways in which France and the U.S. have acted in response to threats of terrorism. Both countries, for instance, have attempted to reach out to Muslim communities in order to get parents and family members of youths who may have gone to Syria to join the terrorist group ISIS to come forward to tell authorities, she said.

France, however, unlike the United States, has a very strong secular tradition, born out of centuries of struggle with a monarchy backed by the Catholic Church.

"France and most of the French people feel that religion has no room for discussion in education, in politics. No political candidate would ever, ever talk about religion, it's completely taboo in France," she said. "In France, if you have any type of religion, it is kept within the private sphere."

This may be problematic in addressing the problem of radicalized Muslim terrorists, Motard-Noar said.

"How do I get to know people on a very personal level if it is somewhat taboo or considered bad taste to really speak about religion that much?" she said. "If I am not close to someone who is Muslim, how do I learn to differentiate between moderate Islam and radical Islam and what people do?"


Making that discernment was of particular importance to Taylor and Della-Maria. Even as they mourned the deaths of those killed in Friday's attacks, they hold out hope that the response will be appropriate and in line with France's values.

"I just think of the French people who are still living on the edge a little bit and all the Muslim people who had absolutely nothing to do with it," Taylor said. "I saw a lot of posts on Facebook of Muslim people holding up signs saying, 'Not in my name,' and it is not. It is not in their name, and I think it's so important that we make a difference between Islam and these extremists."

What's the way forward? That's the million dollar question, according to Motard-Noar, and not one she believes she has the answer to. Taylor and Della-Maria also, are worried about the future, are praying for loved ones and the innocent, but are mainly thankful for all those who were spared, and the support they have received here in their adoptive country and county as Parisians abroad.

"Our Customers were amazing. A lot of my customers called to make sure that everybody in my family and Julie's family were fine, because they know us here. A lot, a lot of people came to just pay respects," Taylor said. "American people were very, very nice and very understanding."