On November 13 2015, Islamic State militants armed with Kalashnikovs, bombs and suicide belts launched a horrific attack on Paris. 129 people were killed as terrorists fired on Paris’ restaurants, blew themselves up outside the Stade de France national sports stadium and stormed the Bataclan theatre where US rock band Eagles of Death Metal were playing, shooting indiscriminately.
In reaction, President Francois Hollande condemned the attacks as an “act of war”. France’s borders were closed, and a state of emergency and three days of national mourning declared. Since Friday 13, France has stepped up its bombing of IS-controlled territory in Syria.
A vast police search for terrorist suspects resulted in a dramatic raid on a Saint Denis property, during which the mastermind behind the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed by French police. A female accomplice, Hasna Aitboulachen, became Europe’s first female suicide bomber when she detonated her explosive vest. Another key suspect, Salah Abdeslam, is still at large.
Reports suggest that the Saint Denis suspects were planning an attack on La Défense, the capital’s major business district. Although the plans were thwarted by French police, French businesses are being hit hard by the Paris attacks. France’s tourism industry is set to experience a significant downturn, with major sites already closed, hotel reservations cancelled and Air France preparing itself for a reduction in bookings.
Business problems pale into insignificance to the loss of human life. Among the casualties is Juan Alberto González Garrido, a former part-time MBA student at HEC Paris and electrical engineer at energy company EDF.
“For us, it’s personal,” says Ankit Punn, an HEC MBA student who knew Juan. “Who would have thought he would disappear from the planet like this? He was recently married this summer. His family are shattered.”
On the night of the attacks, a number of HEC Paris students had gone to the Bataclan and the Stade de France. “We were all very worried and started checking if everyone was safe,” Ankit continues. “The event was a shock to us and to the world, but we all are united.”
The French MBA community is standing together in firm defense of the French republic’s crowning ideals: liberty, equality and brotherhood.
At ESSEC Business School just north of Paris, students gathered to pay tribute to the victims with a minute of silence. After the minute was up the school’s dean, Jean-Michel Blanquer, told the gathered students: “You are the solution.”
“We are all shocked by these attacks, which strike our country at its very heart,” reads a statement from the school. “The only right response is to stand strong and united, to face this malice together.”
Even 1,000 kilometers from Paris, at EDHEC Business School’s Nice campus, the recent attacks have brought students from around the world together in open dialogue. “Students from India, Lebanon, Africa, Syria, and the US are sharing their personal experiences from similar terrorist events in their own countries, and the differences in the worldwide perception of such events,” says EDHEC MBA director Michelle Sisto.
At Grenoble École de Management in southeast France, life continues with a certain degree of tension and visible signs of increased security.
“No MBAs are getting on a plane,” says Grenoble MBA programs director Phil Eyre. “Many of our international students come from areas of the world where conflict is widespread. For our Lebanese and Egyptian students, these events hold nothing new.
“It is the new normal and we’ll have to cope just like they have had to do, while doing everything to counter such hostility. At the same time, there is fervent hope that such atrocities will remain rare.”
How to prevent further atrocities from occurring is a topic of intensive debate among the French MBA community. In a secular country where immigration is high but integration is lacking, one line of thinking is that more must be done to promote multiculturalism.
“The problem in France is that we try to make people the same,” says Pierre Boesinger, a recent MBA graduate from France's EMLYON Business School.
The principle of Laïcité, which forbids the influence of religion in state matters, lies at the heart of the French constitution restricting religious expression. In France, Muslim women cannot go to work in the public sector wearing a hijab.
“There is a difference between integration and trying to make people look like each other,” says Pierre. “If you prevent people from living the way they want to live, from expressing what they want to express, they get frustrated and it creates tension.”