We found out about the attacks while ice skating. It wasn’t obvious at first the extent or how it would continue. Some people gathered in my city, Clermont-Ferrand (about 300km from Paris) out of tribute to those killed. The rest of us continued our lives. The next day was declared a National Day of mourning, I didn’t really know what that would mean. In effect flags were flown at half mast or tied with black ribbons and across the country people took part in a minute of silence, stopping work, school, the trams etc.
On the Thursday it was revealed that there were two separate groups of terrorists (and at this point they weren’t said to be related) and that the two original terrorists had held up a petrol station in Villers-Cottêret the small town where my friend and fellow assistant Laura teaches and lives. Of course I contacted her straight away and she confirmed saying that school had been cancelled and the kids sent home with their parents and the residents of the town were told to stay inside. Laura has previously made comments about how there is nothing to do or going on where she lives… Luckily for Laura the guys moved on and life could go back to normal but with an added celebrity status as she became the go to person for NZ media to interview on the matter.
After what seemed like a long time waiting for them to be caught the whole thing unfolded as you can read elsewhere online.
By this point news was out about those who had been killed and why. One person from my town was killed while he was visiting the Charlie Hebdo offices.
Vigils were held in cities across France.
By the Friday many businesses around the city had #jesuisCharlie signs out in support.
On the Saturday after the attacks my friends and I had tickets to the rugby, the local team was playing and the stadium was packed. A short speech about the attacks and listing the names of those killed (including local man Michel Renault), was followed by a minute of silence and the national anthem.
On the Sunday after the massacre I attended a march/rally in my city in support of freedom of speech and to remember those killed. Between 50 and 70,000 people turned out which is about 20% of the population of the city. I carried a sign that simply said “Unite” while others carried signs talking about freedom of expression (one read: Press liberty RIP with the date ending 2015) and in memory of those killed. It was peaceful and almost completely silent with occasional bouts of applause.
Despite the call for unity, the feeling in France is very divided. Muslims are feeling persecuted. This is an ongoing image issue in the minds of some French people that was in the process of changing prior to the attacks. My kids asked me things like “Are you Charlie?” And “what do you think a terrorist looks like?” In school. I hopefully answered those questions appropriately.
The whole of Europe is crawling with police and military now. In my city there is added security on public transport and military personnel walking around the city in full kit with their machine guns and helmets at the ready. Even in Luxembourg where I was this weekend Amélie (my friend that lives there), noted the additional police patrolling the streets.
Today I was in Paris and walked past Place de la Republic and the Liberation newspaper offices (another media outlet). The square is still filled with tributes to those killed but mostly messages in support of freedom of speech. The offices were guarded by private security and police and barriers were put up to stop anyone from getting close to the building. Tensions are high.