Over the weekend, I was walking along the coast of Anglesey with my family, and enjoying my last few days back in Wales. Never would I have imagined that three days later, I would be attending a vigil after a terrorist attack that killed 12 people, in a city I have become to call my home.
As I first became aware of the attack, as the news broke on Al Jazeera, it didn’t sink in. “This could never happen here” I thought, but it had actually happened – that terrosrist attack that was going to happen…Even though i have always felt safe here, Paris had been on a high alert terrorist attack for some time and today we saw why. I carried on with my day nevertheless, took the metro, noticing the streets to be somewhat quieter. It wasn’t until the afternoon, that I, and I think I’d be right in saying, that all of us realised the extent of the atrocity that occurred in the office of Charlie Hebdo.
I never read Charlie Hebdo, it doesn’t have a very big circulation. Most people don’t read it, and many people are offended by it, but, we have always been aware of its existence, and it has always been a part of French culture. People don’t feel much affection towards it, but they do believe that it has a place in a democratic society. For over 20 years, Charie Hebdo has shocked and amused people. When you laugh, you lose your fear, and this is what Charlie Hebdo tried to accomplish.
I decided to make my way to Place de la Republique after work, where a vigil was being held. Republique is famous for its protests, and almost daily it holds some kind of rally. As I walked up the street towards the square, I was overwhelmed by the large numbers who had attended. I thought that people might be too scared to venture out, but no,they came in silence and solidarity
I’ve been struggling to put into words the atmosphere around the square tonight, but I think the main ambience was the feeling of unity, and the courage as a nation, that the French possess at times like this. The feeling that this was an attack on liberty, and therefore important to the nation, but also to the whole world. I watched as groups of people, young, old, Christians, Muslims, all stood silently holding their biros in the air, their weapon of choice. Candles were placed on the ground writing out the words Je Suis Charlie, and as I stood there taking everything in, a man took out his clarinet and started to play. I’ll admit that I was fighting back the tears.
As the evening went on, the vigil became more of a rally. People climbed the towering statue in the centre of the square, and chanted “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), because indeed, this wasn’t just an attack on Charlie Hebdo, it was an attack on every one of us. Banners were flown that read “Liberte d’expression” (freedom of expression), and lit-up cards “NOT AFRAID” were passed down the crowd and onto the monument. There wasn’t a feeling that people were scared. If anything, the vigil in Republique showed me how strong the Parisians are.
It is now an invisible fight, a fight to be taken by the secret service, and the French and international military, and that’s how it should be. The French don’t want to fight. I don’t want to talk about the attack, the brutality and the utter sadness we have witnessed here today. Tomorrow is another day, a national day of mourning.
So to the friends and family of those who were lost, to the cartooning world, and to France, je suis Charlie.