In Aftermath of 2015 Terror Attacks on France, Voices of Forgiveness Began to Heal the Divide.
Horrific events are shocking, leaving in their aftermath pain and suffering. This was certainly true on November 13, 2015, when multiple sites in Paris were attacked by a 10-man unit of Islamic State terrorists in the deadliest peacetime attack on French soil. One of the sites hit was the Bataclan concert hall, as reported in an article by The Guardian’s Angelique Chrisafis. Three young gunmen entered the hall, killing 90 people who were attending a concert by the Eagles of Death Metal. The terrorists took some hostages, but a little after midnight when security forces stormed the hall, the terrorists detonated their own suicide belts.
On that horrific night, Georges Salines lost his 28-year-old daughter, Lola. Later he testified about his loss at what was widely considered the greatest criminal trial ever held in France, where hundreds of people who survived also shared gripping details of their ordeal. In the article, “Paris Attacks Trial to Conclude After 10 Months of Harrowing Testimony,” Salines was quoted as saying “What I felt from the start was the absurdity of these terrorist attacks where young people killed other young people.” And yet, he did not feel hate. During the trial, he listened to the testimony of Sister Danielle who was taken hostage and witnessed a horrific attack on an 86-year-old priest, Father Hamel, who was forced to his knees while his attackers slit his throat in Saint-Etienne du Rouvray. When a relative of Father Hamel said: ‘We were so sad, there wasn’t any room left for hate,’ Salinas felt something inside himself that found her words very true. Father Philippe Maheut, vicar general of the Rouen diocese, spoke to The Guardian afterward sharing a very important message: “We have to continue to meet, to know each other, understand each other, support each other. Perhaps the death of this poor man will produce an electroshock and will be such a strong symbol that people will say we have to do something, but we have said that before.”
In the Guardian article, “Fathers of Forgiveness: The Extraordinary Friendship Formed in the Shadow of the Bataclan,’ Steve Rose reported how the events of that night took on a strange turn, bringing two unlikely men together who, by all accounts, should never have met: Salines who lost his daughter, and the father of one of the attackers who murdered his daughter. Azdyne Amimour, the father of the attacker, only learned of his son’s involvement two days after the attack when interrogating officers went to his home to inform Amimour that his son, Samy, was one of the perpetrators and had been shot dead by French police. Amimour didn’t even know that his son was in the country, no less would do such a thing. When he heard the news, he was shocked, angered, and very distressed, concerned for his son and for what he had done, feeling these emotions all at once. That night became the worst night of both men’s lives filling them with overwhelming pain. Earlier that day Salines had been enjoying a swim with his daughter. Later that night he was desperately hoping that she was still alive. Amimour had no idea that his son was gone forever, or for what reason, ending his life doing something so horrific and difficult for Amimour to comprehend.
It wasn’t until February 27, 2017, at a café in central Paris that Georges Salines and Azdyne Amimour first met, according to Rose. No questions were asked during the first meeting and instead, Amimour gave a long account of his own story and that of his son, who after starting law school slowly became radicalized, disappeared overnight, and resurfaced in Syria, and of Amimour’s own journey to Syria to find his son, only to be met by rejection. Over the course of their relationship, the men weren’t afraid of discussing extraordinarily painful subjects, which at times were very emotionally charged. Yet, despite their disagreements, they listened to one another in a deeply respectful way. Their goal was to have a better understanding of what had happened and why, to better prevent it from happening again. They wanted to heal hate, especially the hate the Islamic State wanted to initiate between the Muslim and non-Muslim world. Salines recognized this vicious circle and felt that reaching out to Amimour was a small attempt to break that cycle and possibly help heal a divide. Amimour felt the same too.
‘I think [forgiveness] can simply mean that you no longer seek revenge.’ — Georges Salines
After the Paris attacks, many rushed to blame the parents of the attackers. However, Salines dared to see things differently. He viewed the parents as fellow victims — especially Amimour. Salines took the time to understand the jihadist history and the psychological landscape that creates a situation that pushes people toward their movement. Salines understood that Amimour could not have prevented his son from going down the path of extremism. Through his willingness to understand, Salines was able to grow in empathy for all those who were suffering because of that tragic evening. He felt that talking with Amimour, a tolerant Muslim, yet father of a jihadist, showed others that it is possible to talk to one another and to take down the walls of mistrust, anger, and hatred which was dividing society. Amimour, too, knowing that people could possibly hate him, understood the pain Salines was feeling and as a gesture of compassion reached out to him.
Over time, Salines realized that forgiveness was the only way to heal the pain and suffering on all sides of the divide, no matter how difficult learning to forgive may be. He understood that it is only possible to forgive when the harm has been done to you directly. You can’t forgive for others — yet, no matter what, you can decide not to seek revenge, which is a great step forward in restoring peace. Since getting to know one another the two men have worked on strategies to prevent something like what happened at Bataclan from happening again by giving talks and workshops, especially with governments, schools, and prisons. Their message is always that of hope, friendship, and forgiveness in the shadow of the darkest night of their lives, the attack on Bataclan.
- “’It Looked Like a Battlefield’: The Full Story of What Happened in the Bataclan”
- “Paris Attacks Trial to Conclude After 10 Months of Harrowing Testimony”
- “Isis Attackers Forced French Priest to Kneel Before He Was Murdered, Hostage Says”
- “Fathers of Forgiveness: The Extraordinary Friendship Formed in the Shadow of the Bataclan“