Let the music play

Bataclan has reopened

27. of November, 2016

By Helle Merete Brix

“The sight of all the dead young women lying on the hall floor. The smell of blood”. Earlier this year I talked to Aurelia who survived the terrorist attack on Bataclan. I30 people died in and around Paris last year in terrorist actions. 89 of them died at the Bataclan Music Hall.

Aurelia told me how she and a group of people saved their lives – some of them wounded – when they took refuge from the gunfire in a little room and barricaded the door as best they could. From there they could hear what was going on in the hall including the terrorists’ vociferous condemnation of France’s crimes in Syria. And then the shots that started haphazardly and then grew more methodical. Some young men in the group said they knew why. And they were right. The terrorists were beginning to execute people by shooting them in the head.

”Don’t look down”, said the policemen who finally arrived on the scene and led Aurelia and her group to safety. There were two very young people in the group and Aurelia persuaded the policemen to let them keep their eyes tightly closed and hold her hand as they walked through the hall. Which meant she had to keep her own eyes open and was thus forced to see ”what no civilian person should ever see”, as she put it.

Today Aurelia is active in ”13onze15” (13eleven15), one of the organisations that sprang up in the wake of the attack in November last year.

Support for the victimes

They support survivors and relatives of the victims and give them a place to meet. My conversation with Amelia took place in a great shambling council building in the capital city of France. There were armed guards at the door, and it’s no coincidence that 13onze15 hold their meetings here. And understandably because supporting the victims of terrorism is no longer something you can do entirely without risk.

The French organisation for the victims of terrorism (Association Francaise de victimes de terrorisme, AFVT) is the oldest of its kind in France. Its head office is in Paris and it takes a clear stand on terrorism-related issues in the public debate. AFVT has heightened its security vigilance around its head-office. That was because of one unwelcome guest, they told me. He threatened to kill the staff.

11th arrondissement in Paris

A lot has been said in the media about those who lost a son, a daughter or a spouse, but there were also a few children who lost both of their parents when the terrorists struck at Bataclan. Since hearing about them I’ve often wondered how life will become for these children?

Terrorism by the way has not only human but also economic implications. We hear in the media that hotels especially in Paris have lost a lot of bookings because people stay away. But what we don’t hear is that it is the same area in Paris that has been hit. Twice in 2015 it was the 11th arrondissement. The first attack was on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in the Rue Nicolas-Appert on the 7th of January. The second against the Bataclan on the Boulevard Voltaire on the 13th of November. All these misfortunes have been compounded by violent strikes on for instance Place de la Bastille like the ones in the summer of 2016.

All this has taken its toll not just on the hotels but on all kinds of caterers. In a report published by the AFVT, clothes and fashion shops which usually sell a lot of their merchandise in connection with Christmas and the New Year characterised 2015 as a “catastrophic year”.

And how long can a city area be in mourning? How long can pavements be filled with cards, teddy bears and flowers? When does daily life start again? At Bataclan they’ve been hammering and sawing away for a long time and the music facilities has opened again. Sting played here on Saturday, November 12th, the evening before the anniversary of the massacre. All revenue from the concert will be donated to victims of terrorism.

Bataclan has reopened

Bataclan was not open on the 13th out of respect for the victims and their relatives. Which of course was the only right thing to do. But, as a near relative of mine asked, can we really enjoy ourselves at a place where so many people were wantonly killed?

”I don’t know if I’ll come out alive” Aurelia texted her husband as she on the 13th of November tried to keep her own spirits up as well as those of the other people in the little group behind the barricaded door. But she did, and the little coat that was her favorite concert coat she still keeps as a momento. Even though it was stained with the blood of people who fortunately have long since been released from hospital.

She wanted that coat cleaned as a symbol of her refusal to let the terrorists win. I wonder if the people from Aurelia’s organisation and other survivers who attended Sting’s concert on the 12th did it with their hearts in their mouths.

I remember how hard it was for me to walk into a meeting in May 2015 with the Swedish art historian and Muhammed cartoonist Lars Vilks who was the target of the attack in the culture house Krudttønden (The Powderbox) in Copenhagen. Even though the meeting was being held inside the Danish Parliament building and there were policemen with machine guns both inside and out. But I had to. Not only because Lars Vilks is my friend but because there was no alternative. There is no alternative. So I send warm wishes to Sting and other artists who have now played at Bataclan again.

And the Future? Who knows? Perhaps Denmark will be hit by something similar one day, and on a much larger scale than the 15th of February 2015. Perhaps something more like the attack in Paris on the 13th of November.

Maybe the target will be our famous Tivoli or our Central Train Station. But it could also be a debate on free speech. Or cartoons. In times when machine guns speak it’s important to gainsay them, and one of the ways is to reconquer the areas the holy warriors have tainted with terrorism. So I say: Hurrah! Let the music play again at Bataclan.

Translation: Geoffrey Cain