The terrorists have come for the young and the free, and there is only one possible response

People hold hands to form a human solidarity chain at Place de la Republique near the site of the attack at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.
People hold hands to form a human solidarity chain at Place de la Republique near the site of the attack at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.
Image: Reuters/Pascal Rossignol
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The French have anointed them “Generation Bataclan.”

They are a new, traumatized youth demographic: diverse, open-minded, freedom-loving twenty- and thirty-somethings targeted when ISIL came gunning for the city terrorists revile.

In the words of the martyred Charlie Hebdo illustrator Stéphane Charbonnier, or Charb, this generation would rather “die on their feet than live on their knees.”

Now the survivors among them are vowing publicly to never accede to terrorist demands that they abandon their “perverse” and “obscene” ways of life in the café, the bar, the concert hall, and the night.

Their moniker is taken from the name of the historic music venue in eastern Paris, where scores of concert-goers with names like Lola, Guillaume, Djamila, and Mathieu were mowed down and killed last Friday night by Kalashnikov-wielding suicide attackers about the same age as many of their victims.

Liberation newspaper gets the credit for coining the term Generation Bataclan, and pays homage to a sociological phenomenon that could only emerge by force in the age of terrorism. Born in a bloodbath, they were the subject of a moving front-page tribute to the shattered young people of the French capital, an homage that has ignited widespread positive commentary on social media. As one Parisian supporter said on Twitter: “an entire generation is traumatized by these tragic events. But an entire generation is on its feet directly facing terrorism.” Taking back the café terrace and posting selfies with the hashtag #OccupyTerrasse became an act of resistance.

The victims were musicians and writers, struggling artists, fledgling academics and teachers, jobless commercial consultants and young parents. The hallmarks of their generation are a “certain cultural openness, liberal habits, and a cosmopolitanism that doesn’t exclude a convivial kind of patriotism,” Liberation suggests. They came from all over the world, with 19 nationalities counted among the victims, as French president Francois Hollande, in his address at Versailles yesterday, reminded the two houses of the French Parliament.

Generation Bataclan can be thought of as a global generation without borders–under threat everywhere that young people gather in the vibrant, mixed neighborhoods of the world’s most dynamic, liberal cities, to clink glasses, talk, dance to loud music, eat inexpensive foreign food and fall in love. That could mean London or New York, San Francisco, Jakarta, Berlin, Manila, Amsterdam, Sydney, Bangkok, Madrid, and more.

November 13’s coordinated Paris massacres sent a message to young people across the world that they are targets. The under-40 crowd, wherever there is freedom of movement and spirit, are all Generation Bataclan. 

The latest victims have been killed for the alleged “crime” of being as carefree as you afford to can be in a contemporary job market and society where few have stable work. Life is increasingly precarious and expensive. Take the murdered Bataclan concert-goer Christophe Lellouche, 33, who had just lost his job as a communications officer with Peugeot, but still decided to go to the much-anticipated Eagles of Death Metal concert. Chances to meet potential lovers and mates face to face outside of online forums are limited. But there are exceptions in the havens of tolerance in unassuming public spaces in these gentrifying parts of the world’s great metropolises, like Paris’s 10th and 11th arrondissements.

We have been here before, in a different holiday location. Back in 2002, a different bunch of terrorists with similar intentions drove a car packed with explosives into teeming nightclubs on the Indonesian island resort of Bali and blew themselves up. Among the hundreds of “hedonist” victims were more than 80 Australians, but the young partiers on vacation came from all over the world.

Like the Bali bombings, the massacres in Paris were an attack on the insouciance of youth, and on the future of tolerant, democratic, multi-ethnic, mostly secular societies.

So how should a generation in the firing line of fanatics and suicide fighters respond without slipping into the trap of intolerance and hatred? Can they pick up the pieces and try to reconstruct their way of life after the Paris attacks?

Sunday’s scenes of panic in Place de la Republique and streets across eastern Paris near the attacks suggest the task will be very challenging. Fear lurks below the surface of every exchange now. The calm and peace of an impossibly sunny and mild winter afternoon was a brittle one.

I had walked back through the vast square 30 minutes before the panic started, marveling at the audacity of Parisians flocking there in such large numbers despite the ban on public gatherings. They were there to remember and pay tribute to the fallen of November 13 with candles, flowers and notes, poems and lyrics from George Brassens songs like “Les Copains d’Abord.”

Suddenly, the sound of a firecracker mistaken for an explosion almost emptied the enormous public place of the thousands who had gathered. As live footage showed, the crowds raced towards nearby cafes, knocking over glasses and tables. Fortunately it was a false alarm.

Generation Bataclan is panicked and paranoid, pale and in tears. We’re asking “Why did this happen,” “Why have my friends been murdered,” and acknowledging “Yes, it could have been me.” I heard such phrases constantly yesterday on Rue Bichat outside Le Carillon, an unassuming, cheaply-priced bar where I had enjoyed an aperitif and a few drinks in my earlier period living in Paris.

The attackers and ISIL want to kill the spirit of openness that defines the Bataclan generation by driving a wedge within it, pitting Muslims against everyone else and pushing us all toward the extremes. They want to divide races and classes and even separate the young immigrant kids in the suburbs from those in the city. Was there meaning in the terrorists’ choice to attack the Bataclan, which had Jewish owners and has previously hosted not only Buffalo Bill and Julian Casablancas but also an Israeli fundraising organization? Did they consciously choose to obliterate Le Carillon, a soulful little bar run for decades by a modest family from the Kabylie mountains of Algeria, who dared set up a café selling alcohol to “pagans”?

Above all, the terrorists want to make everyone too afraid to ever resume anything resembling their old way of life.

“It is definitely tolerance that they were targeting as much as France,” writes Liberation’s editor Laurent Joffrin. “In this situation the cardinal error would be to become intolerant ourselves.”

Defiant after all, this new generation is now discovering its voice after years of domination by the Baby Boomers and older Generation Xers is responding.

And they are rejecting the idea that the phrase “Je suis Charlie” does not apply to them. In fact, the Paris atrocity is changing the opinions of many younger people who were ambivalent about the baby-boomer-heavy “Je suis Charlie” crowd and the millions who turned out for their republican march in January.

Most importantly, Generation Bataclan is refusing the abject division of ISIL’s victims into the ones who probably asked for it and deserve their fate (that is, caricaturists and journalists who tempted death by “insulting” Islam) versus the innocents whose lives were ended because they were sitting or standing in the wrong place having fun at the wrong time. Philosopher Pascal Bruckner says now the French realize their attackers reproach all their victims for the simple fact of existing and having been born in France. 

“We will throw our arms around each other and kiss like the abominable perverts we are,” is the title of a poetic tribute to the dead, and a celebration of the living, by Luc le Vaillant.

“So we don’t forget the lives ruined by bullets, tomorrow we will return to listen to metal rock at the Bataclan, to eat shrimp rolls at the Petit Cambodge and to cut the head of theocracies like we cut the head of royal absolutism that made pools of blood flow.”