Dispatch from Paris

The horrific events last week in France were felt around the world. As pointed out in an editorial in The New York Times, “The terrorists hoped that the murder of Jews and the cartoonists who dared to sketch the Prophet Muhammad would trigger a spiral of polarizing hate and fear.” Here in Paris, where citizens were brought together in their grief and mourning, I found the opposite. As the helicopters flew overhead and sirens sounded in the distance, any fear I felt was quelled by the kindness of random strangers in the streets. Outside the headquarters of Le Monde, and a nearby orthodox Jewish school, the armed police patrolled and neighbors stopped to thank them. Whether Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist or atheist, citizens banded together to talk, mourn, and pray. Stopping in Monoprix for a carton of milk, I ended up talking for a long time with an Algerian born security guard, and another from Haiti. When I went to pick up my daughter at her Tunisian nanny’s house, we cried together, holding hands as we watched the news.

And then, in the most remarkable show of solidarity and defense of the French republic and its values, Sunday’s rally brought together more than a million people—plus 40 world leaders arm-in-arm with President François Hollande—in the Parisian streets. (Across France, more than 3.7 million people marched, which is close to 6% of the French population.) I’ve never seen the metro quays so packed, and people didn’t mind waiting, pressed together on the platform, for the line 5 to take them to République. With two small kids in tow, we went to Place de la Nation, where it was amazingly quiet for such an enormous crowd. Flags fluttered in the breeze, people of all ethnicities and religions held pencils and signs, “Je Suis Charlie, Je Suis Ahmed, Je Suis Juif, Je Suis Policier.” Children’s faces were painted with the words. I spotted a lost child, crying because she couldn’t find her (Jewish) father in the crowd. Quickly she was surrounded by calm, caring Parisians, who found her grateful father by waving a pink umbrella high above the crowds. As the sun set, the crowds did not fade, and the light reflected beautifully on the bronze statue “The Triumph of the Republic”.

— Web Editor Mary Winston Nicklin in Paris

A reflection on the recent events in Paris, seen from France Today HQ in the UK

As Francophiles visiting France from time to time we tend to focus on those aspects that reward us the most. Our love of French culture, the beauty of the countryside, the gastronomic delights or the art de vivre which we try to emulate. With so much to entertain and distract us, we often overlook the proud history of the French people and their deep-rooted belief in liberté, a cornerstone of the French republic. After the shocking attacks in Paris, I watched the footage of Sunday’s marches through the city with a sense of awe and admiration – a multi-faith, multi-ethnic demonstration of solidarity in support of the sustaining values of democratic countries. Taking to the streets to protest comes naturally to the French, whereas here in the UK we tend to shrug our shoulders and muddle on. When I worked in publishing in the 1980s, London was the target of indiscriminate IRA bombing campaigns. There was a background of fearfulness when you went to work, or when you went shopping or traveled around the city – but we all got on with it and went about our everyday lives with quiet British stoicism. After all, our parents had seen London survive the Blitz and their parents had suffered the horrors of the Great War to fight for our freedoms. So who were we to cower from random terrorist attacks?  Sadly I fear there will be many more attacks to come before this hatred is put to rest, but until then the best way for us to show our support and solidarity is to continue visiting France and to acknowledge not only their beautiful country but also their defiance and determination to defend the rights of free speech.

—Editor-in Chief Guy Hibbert

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Guy – from the US, the French gained the admiration of the world with their show of pride for values we hold sacred. Unfortunately these are only our values. Showing they are valuable to us is the only way to show them to people that have never experienced them

  2. So moved by Mary Winston Nicklin’s coverage of the terrible week and then the March. Her comments showed us something of how integrated French society is and how being “French” may be bigger than being “Arab” or “Jew” or “Christian”.

  3. As an Australian in Paris during last week,s terror, I was proud to take part in Sunday,s march. The feeling of solidarity, pride and unity was palpable . No one cared who I was, just that we were there along with the millions of others, proud to state : Je suis Charlie!

  4. I was in Marseille at the time, where the solidarity of the French people was strongly cemented regardless of ethnic or religious background. The unprecedented show of global unity demonstrates that those tragic deaths were not in vain.
    Vive La France! And thank you Mary for your poignant first-hand account.

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