Paris streets speak of pain, fears

Paris streets speak of pain, fears
On the streets of one mixed Paris neighbourhood, residents talks of their shock at the Charlie Hebdo murders and fears for race relations for France in the future.
4 min read
09 January, 2015
The lights on the Eiffel Tower were turned off for five minutes Thursday night (Getty)

In a small bookshop in Saint Denis, a suburb in northern Paris, the shop window Thursday was filled with editions of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French magazine at whose headquarters 12 people were murdered Wednesday by two masked gunmen.

On the door hung a large hand-written note. “Je Suis Charlie”.

Across France, people have demonstrated their shock and

     If society reacts against Muslims, they have the right.

– Jamal, Saint Denis fast food worker

disgust at the attacks Wednesday, whether in pencil-raising vigils on the streets or on social media. Wednesday saw #JeSuisCharlie” – I am Charlie – trending on Twitter. Thursday it was #JeSuisAhmed, after Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim policeman who was gunned down in the street outside the Charlie Hebdo offices.

French police are still looking for the two gunmen, whom they have identified as brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi.

And inside the bookshop in Saint Denis, shop-owner Marie Dubois, 40, confessed her own shock, even as she admitted she had never liked Charlie Hebdo much and rarely exhibited it prominently.

“I found the drawings questionable and a bit too much. But this is freedom of speech and nobody should kill them for that.”

She also suggested that – paradoxically perhaps – sales of the magazine would now go through the roof. On a good week, she said, she would sell “a maximum of five”.

Cartoonists around the world react. Read more here

Indeed, Charlie Hebdo would normally expect to sell 65,000 copies. This week, a million copies are being printed.

But none of that, Dubois said, could dull the shock of a crime that “ached my heart”.

“It's the freedom of press that was attacked yesterday. I am shocked and sad. But I also discovered that people are really united now. Everybody is united not to let terror win.“

Outside her shop, many expressed similar feelings. In this mixed neighbourhood, about a quarter of the population are non-European immigrants, first or second generation. There are plenty of Muslims. One, Rachida, 31, said she was now deeply concerned about how the country would react. Her mother, who hails from Morocco, wears the hijab, and Rachida, who did not want to give her last name, said Muslims could now become targets.

“In our daily lives, people will look at us differently. And the extreme right will win more votes.”

Jamal, originally Tunisian, works in a fast food restaurant in the area. He said it would be understandable if there were an angry reaction from French society.

“What happened was tragic and does not represent Islam in any way. If society reacts against Muslims they have the right. Only time can now show them what Islam really is.”

Most Muslims in Saint Denis were unequivocal in condemning the act, reflecting national sentiment. Seven major French Muslim organisations have already condemned the murders and have called for a silent rally Friday to remember the “victims of terrorism”. They have also called on imams up and down the country to devote their Friday sermons to the slayings and affirm their desire to live in peace and in accordance with the values of the French Republic.

Laila, 33, also did not mince her words. The murders were “terrorism” she said Killing the cartoonists – however offensive their cartoons – was not only wrong in itself, the French-Algerian added, it will also take anti-Islamic sentiment and make it mainstream.

“The cartoons expressed not only the feelings of the journalist who drew them but also how French society feels secretly about Islam. Now instead of having one journal, the entire French society will be against us.”  

Activists eye backlash after Charlie Hebdo attack

Not all were united in the condemnation of the killings. Across the street from Dubois’ bookshop, two men of Algerian origin were sipping coffee at the Balto cafe. Neither would give their name. But they did not hide their distaste for Charlie Hebdo.

“They deserved it,” one of them men said. “They should have seen it coming,” the other added, “insulting Islam over and over.”

For all the fears among French Muslims about the consequences of the attack, it is likely to be a more complex reaction then simply an anti-Islamic backlash.

Down the street, Jean-Claude, 40, said he was less concerned about French Muslims then about the availability of weapons in France. The attackers, he said, were clearly “amateurs”. Their weapons were professional.

More than that, he said he was shocked at the reaction of politicians who were often the target of Charlie’s Hebdo’s brand of satire.

“It's crazy to think that all the people Charlie Hebdo used to criticize and mock are the same people now using this event in the interests of their political parties and in Charlie's name”.