Last weekend, Oxford students and residents took part in events which served to demonstrate solidarity with the people of Paris following Friday evening’s terror attacks.
The attacks, planned and executed by terrorists from the militant group ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’, killed at least 130 people, and injured many more.
The world responded rapidly, showing solidarity with the people of Paris and France, illuminating landmarks and their Facebook profile pictures with the Tricolour, and organising and attending numerous peaceful vigils and marches. Oxford was no exception, with two marches taking place over the weekend; one on Saturday evening, and another on Sunday afternoon.
The march on Saturday was organised by Sophie Amelia, with an event on Facebook advertised as a ‘Peaceful march for Paris’, encouraging ‘everyone and anyone who wants to come support’ to attend. Turnout was high despite the short notice and adverse weather, and Sophie commented: ‘I didn’t realise quite how many people would come, it was just something I was going to organise for my friends, but I’m glad people did. it showed solidarity and a lot of compassion.’
Starting with a prayer for Paris outside the Radcliffe Camera, the march progressed down Brasenose Lane and Ship Street to Cornmarket Street, before continuing to the Tirah Memorial on Bonn Square. People bore flowers, candles, and not only the flag of France, but also chains of flags from all around the world. In this way, they emphasised the international nature of their message, and that in the aftermath of terror attacks, the world stands united in defiance.
On the way to Bonn Square, people chanted ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’, though the overall mood was one of introspection, and the march was conducted mostly in silence.
A circle then formed around the memorial, with many heads bowed in respect, thought, and prayer. The candles and carnations were assembled at the base of the monument, the flags wrapped around it. Those gathered then stood for a quarter of an hour, in the cold and the rain, offering their thoughts for those affected, and demonstrating support and togetherness with the people of Paris.
Sophie added, on the motivation for the march: ‘I wanted to show Oxford and my friends over in Paris that we cared about the victims, about the people my friends knew and it was also a way of showing people that there is still a lot of goodness and hope out there. People willing to stand up to these, and other atrocities, happening all over the world. It’s sometimes easy to forget that we do have hope.’
The second march also started from Radcliffe Square, but marched instead down St Giles and then on to North Oxford for over an hour to reach La Maison Française. Advertised as ‘Marche de soutien suite aux évènements du 13 Novembre à Paris’ (walk out to support Paris following the events of the 13th November), attendance was even higher than on Saturday, with a sizeable proportion of French students.
People carried signs bearing the slogan ‘Pray for Paris’, along with flags, messages of peace and solidarity, and candles. The march culminated with the laying down of tributes, a minute of silence, and a spontaneous rendition of La Marseillaise.
There were other ways in which Oxford showed solidarity, including special services of remembrance held at college chapels and churches across the city, with a service of prayer and mourning at Christ Church Cathedral, and a vigil at Hertford College Chapel. Political groups also took modest steps to demonstrate solidarity, with OUCA providing a book of condolences at the door of their Port and Policy event for attendees to sign, which will be sent to the French Embassy later this week.