The world mourned together on Nov. 13 as the number of lives lost in Paris climbed higher with every news update, reaching at least 130 individuals.
Along with a large portion of the world, UCF students and professors grew aghast as the details slowly emerged on social media.
Facebook users changed their profile photos to reflect the colors of the French flag.
Iconic world monuments in England, Brazil, China, Mexico and the United States were lit up in the French tricolor to display solidarity for Paris’ tragic attacks.
It has been more than two weeks since the Islamic State took credit for the Paris terrorist attacks, and some in the UCF community still remain slightly disturbed by both the incident and its subsequent political response.
Gautier Mary, a UCF foreign exchange student from Paris studying finance, was on vacation in Mexico when he began receiving an influx of messages from concerned friends.
He was unaware of what was happening in Paris at the time, but found it hard to keep away from the news updates once he discovered the disaster occurring at home.
“I could not stop watching the news on Twitter and TV. During those hours, I was really shocked by the reality of what happened, and I was scared for the people there and how they might be reacting,” Mary said.
Mary sympathized for the plight of the 30,000 Syrian refugees who were allowed into France, despite the attacks.
“Can we pretend that they are not allowed to dream of a better future?” he said. “I don’t think so. I think the problem is the security.
“Europe needs to find a way to highly secure the borders to recognize suspect intruders.”
The day before the Paris attacks, ISIS took credit for the death of 43 people from suicide bombings in Beirut, Lebanon.
The collective timing and shock of both incidents have added fuel to the fiery debate over Obama’s commitment to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the country next year.
Mohamed Mohamed, president of the Muslim Student Association at UCF, said another result of the terrorist incidents has been increased anti-Islamic sentiments, most prominently from 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Mohamed said he believes the anti-Islamic attitude stems from fear and a dire misrepresentation of Islam.
“Unfortunately, people see the wrong image,” Mohamed said. “But in reality, the vast majority of us are very peaceful people — people who have nothing to do with this.
“In fact, if you think about it, the vast majority of ISIS’ victims are actually Muslims.”
Although estimates of those killed by ISIS are difficult to accurately compile, a report released by the United Nations in September 2014 stated that in just the first eight months of 2014, ISIS either killed or injured 24,105 Iraqi civilians — the majority of whom were Muslim.
Mohamed’s views regarding the resettlement of Syrian refugees parallel that of Mary’s.
Mohamed said he was touched when he read that France was accepting 30,000 refugees.
“I was really happy to see that because the French people suffered these attacks, and the fact is that they’re afraid and mourning their loss. Yet at the same time, they’re still being the bigger person,” he said. “They’re not letting fear and hatred influence them.
“That shows me that maybe we could kind of learn from them.”
UCF associate professor Jonathan Matusitz, author of Terrorism and Communication and Symbolism in Terrorism, holds a different opinion, however.
Matusitz said he is surprised French President Francois Hollande is not placing a hold on the influx of migrants being resettled in France.
Although it is impossible to effectively screen everyone, he said the risk of inadvertently allowing individuals with malicious long-term agendas needs to be countered with higher vigilance and precaution, particularly when dealing with refugees from radical countries.
“Anybody can be a target, wherever you are. Whether you’re in Beirut, Paris, Brussels, Washington D.C. — we all have to be vigilant,” Matusitz said.
While Matusitz said the Bataclan theater was likely chosen as one of the target sites due to having Jewish owners who often hosted pro-Israel fundraisers and events, he doesn’t doubt the possibility of UCF being a potential target as well.
However, he said he trusts that the UCF Police Department is well prepared and will arrive to any hostage or terrorist scene quickly.
“Since the attacks, we’ve encouraged our community to remain vigilant. If people observe activity that seems suspicious, we want them to let police know,” UCF PD spokeswoman Courtney Gilmartin said.
Students may call 407-823-5555 to report suspicious activity, or call 911 for a crime in progress.
Gabby Baquero is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.