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In Paris, A Collective Trauma

Published: January 11, 2015 16:39 IST
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(Noopur Tiwari is Independent Journalist and NDTV Consulting Resident Editor, Europe)

The whole world is watching. They would. Terror has struck at the heart of Europe. Two thousands have been killed by Boko Haram in Nigeria too. But attention is riveted to Paris for now. When the privileged west is attacked, somehow it's got to be more serious, right? Should it be though? Perhaps it's not the best time to ask? But then it never is.

Three armed men were at large for three days and left seventeen dead in the Paris region. Twelve in the Charlie Hebdo office attack on Wednesday, one policewoman in Montrouge near Paris on Thursday and four in a kosher supermarket on Friday. I've been a Parisian myself for ten years now but I have never seen the city seized by this kind of collective trauma before.

France has responded to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in quite a unique way, though. People have been spontaneously pouring out in to the streets every single day since the killers struck at the head office of the satire magazine. These are the biggest spontaneous rallies that I have seen in France in the last decade. Residents around the Republique square where rallies often take place in Paris told me the crowds are exceptional, given that no group or political party had called for these manifestations. It's just people. It's everyone.

But what is "everyone" protesting when they are out there? And who are they really? Many of my friends are outraged that the French government has hijacked the protests. They were more comfortable with the spontaneous nature of the manifestations so far.

Now it's the Prime Minister making an appeal to people to come out saying this is the most "beautiful response" to what the country has gone through. While the far right leader Marine Le Pen has been asked to stay away from the Paris protests, she will protests elsewhere, but she says she is marching too, "with the people of France". Among fears that extremist  elements in France's Muslim and Jewish communities will clash, as they do from time to time, some were relieved to hear that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestine president and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, will both be present.

50 odd heads of states heading in buses to join people in a manifestation is unheard of. Yet some were outraged that leaders from countries where freedom of expression is hardly upheld were also be invited.

As for the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists some of whom were not there during the attacks, they seem appalled by this instrumentalisation. "We vomit over all these people who have suddenly become our friends", cartoonist Willem told a Volkskrant, a Dutch daily. While everyone knows of Charlie Hebdo and the journal did have a dedicated following, many have never read the journal. It didn't sell many copies. Only about 60,000. But next week, it will print a million copies and will be distributed outside France too with support pouring in from everywhere. Ironic, says a journalist of the satire magazine, Zineb El Rahazoui. She told local media that the publication had been dying a slow death. Charb, the chief editor and cartoonist of the magazine, who was killed in the attacks, had been struggling to keep the journal going and was rushing from pillar to post to get funds. El Rahazoui said it took twelve dead bodies for people to come to their support.

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