‘We cry for our dead’: Paris responds to three days of terror following Charlie Hebdo attack

Peering over the coat-clad shoulders from the back of the quiet crowd in the fading light, the only object I could make out was the French flag, trying to flutter in the breeze but hanging limp.

During Friday evening’s vigil kept by Charlie Hebdo supporters in South Kensington, was the Tricolore flag expressing what the people gazing up at it could not?

While peaceful defiance reigned outside the French Institute’s Ciné Lumière in France’s ‘sixth city’, uncertainty gripped Paris.

Following the daylight massacre of 12 people at the weekly satire magazine offices in Paris on Wednesday, the unrest spilled out into surrounding areas with the shooting of a policewoman on Thursday and two separate hostage-takings shedding blood on Friday.

Charlie Hebdo tribute joJE SUIS CHARLIE: Tributes of pens and pencils have been laid at vigil sites

These reportedly culminated in the death of four hostages and their captor Ahmed Coulibaly – a manhunt ensues for his partner, Hayat Boumeddiene – and the martyrdom of Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, the brothers wanted for the Charlie Hebdo killing.

Three terrifying days unfolded to onlookers who were faced with the choice to either to brush aside or to try to negotiate – mentally, emotionally, intellectually – the situation.

Having lived in Paris, I felt unable to disconnect it in my mind from carefree, twilight walks along the Seine and meanders in the Marais hampered by no concern except choosing which bar to visit next.

In the immediate aftermath I wondered how, behind the intensely mediatized coverage of events, the people in the street were feeling.

Charlie Hebdo iona south ken vigilSOLIDARITY: Londoners gather at the Ciné Lumière in South Kensington

On Friday afternoon, Sophie Dimitriadis, 23, a British intern working in Paris for The International New York Times said: “Fear is gripping everyone but in the immediate aftershock there was a lot of anger.

“As I’m speaking to you now – in La Défense [the business district] – I can see seven policemen with guns and I walk around a lot more aware of the people around me, I’m on my guard.

“The French people want to give the impression that they’re fighting back, but actually people are a lot more afraid then they let on.”

“The French people want to give the impression that they’re fighting back, but actually people are a lot more afraid then they let on.”

Alvaro Echánove, 22, is completing his masters in Anthropology of Law at Paris’s prestigious Sorbonne, just ten minutes away from where the massacre occurred.

He said: “[When the news broke] the city was tense. I think people who could stay home did, and then in the evening people started going back out into the streets and gathered in République. There was a sense of mourning.

“I sense a form of generalized kindness among people. It’s like everyone is trying hard to be peaceful. Some of my friends are really badly affected. Some are sad, some are scared.

“My girlfriend has noted a patriotic reaction to the attacks, like ‘this is France, this is how we react.’”

Charlie Hebdo free speech jo3
FREE SPEECH: France holds tight to principles of liberty

Whether a by-product of patriotism, a kneejerk response to grief or an excuse to speak out, France’s reaction – and that of the international community – is undeniably moving.

Chants of ‘laïcité,’ roughly translated as the secularity central to the French system, ‘Je suis Charlie’ and a gaggle of children shouting ‘Je suis pas afraid!’ gave backing noise to what was otherwise a meditative vigil on Friday.

Following the attacks, the solidarity hashtag #JeSuisCharlie – and later #JeSuisAhmed for the Muslim policeman also murdered in the attacks – abounded on social media and, at its height, was tweeted around 6,500 times per hour over one 24-hour period.

Some find comfort in the #JeSuisCharlie expression, yet some struggle with the appropriation of another’s tragedy – as one commentator articulated: “To abhor what was done to the victims, though, is not the same as to become them.”

Debate over the attacks have become an international issues, as the lines of how far free speech can go are drawn and redrawn.

“This is not freedom. This is not Islam and I hope the French will come out united at the end of this.”

Daniel Sibony, a renowned intellectual, author and psychoanalyst, said in an exclusive: “These people came to execute the sharia, a very precise law dictating that the one who mocks the true religion – Islam – deserves death.

“The journalists thought they were living under the French law of liberty but in fact they actually live under the rivalry between two laws – French laws and the sharia.

“The French establishment denies that in Islam there could be this kind of violence against the other, so it treats Jihadists as bandits, just as bad people, but they are not simply bad people – they are militants for a very precise ideology and you don’t know when they will put this into action.”

TRIBUTES: Multicoloured wax remains of a candle-lit vigil adorn monuments

The East London Mosque was unavailable for interview but Imam Hassen Chalghoumi, of the Drancy mosque, arrived at devastating Paris attack scene said: “These are criminals, barbarians.

“This is not freedom. This is not Islam and I hope the French will come out united at the end of this.”

Euphémie Picq, Philosophy teacher, Sorbonne graduate and Parisian resident shone a light on the events on Saturday.

“Yesterday, sirens and the murmur of helicopters overhead reverberated endlessly through Paris,” she said.

“We think twice before setting foot on the metro and we hesitate to gather in the squares for fear of getting targeted. The atmosphere is very anxiety inducing. As if taken hostage, we hold our breath.”

“Today we tend to the wounds of our city. We cry for our dead.”

The 29-year-old continued: “Today we tend to the wounds of our city. We cry for our dead, the loss of all that talent, and we rise up against the attack against freedom.

“What we understand is that ignorance and fanaticism are enemies, and are as stupid as they are dangerous.

“We will not give in to stupidity. We need to be courageous if we plan to protect our values: we have to unite and to keep defending our freedom to think, to hope and to laugh.”

The Porte de Vincennes hostages were taken just 500m from the apartment where I lived, and I find myself wondering whether it matters more to me because I could have been there.

On Sunday afternoon, while over three million participated in unity marches in France, Trafalgar Square saw the National Gallery bathed in the colours of the French flag before a crowd, shaken but unified.

Translations by Iona Napier.
Picture of Kensington vigil by Iona Napier.
All other images courtesy of Johanna Tyers.

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