Horror, disdain, anger, sadness. Those are all the words that came to mind after the last week of stressful and horrible news of what was happening in my home country, France. How could 2015 start in such a shattering way?
Wednesday 7 January 2015, 10:47pm: after a long and exhausting day I decide that for once I’ll go to sleep early. But at this precise minute, I receive a notification on my phone from Le Monde, the major French newspaper, with the single sentence,“10 journalists dead in Charlie Hebdo”. I struggle to understand the horror of that message.
For a few long seconds I just stare at my phone, tirelessly reading the same sentence over and over again. It is 12:47 pm in France and I am in shock.
My first thought is, “how can this happen?”
Rapidly, I simultaneously turn on French TV news channels, read the Le Monde live stream and talk on the phone with my friends in Paris.
So it is true, I didn’t fall asleep and enter a nightmare. Great cartoonists, journalists, sub-editors, policemen and ordinary members of the public were killed in the most hateful way.
The news confirmed that 12 people were dead and 11 injured. I was too scared to find out but when I eventually learned who died, my heart just broke. I quickly understood this had a link to Charlie Hebdo‘s regular mocking tone towards religion. I finally go to sleep with tears in my eyes, thinking about the way they died and how innocent they were with just their paper and pencils.
The following day was as exhausting. I couldn’t stop thinking about the news and closely followed the unfolding events.
By Thursday night, the French community in Sydney, also in shock, held a vigil in Martin Place with French Ambassador, Christophe Lecourtier.
Of course I went. It was a weird feeling to be with so many of my compatriots on such a sad occasion. For the first time since I arrived in Sydney, I felt bad for not being with my friends, my family, my country, and in a position to better understand what had just happened.
The vigil was emotional and silent. Local media reported that about 3,000 people attended, mostly French but also Australians from many different backgrounds. After speeches from the Ambassador and organisers, at 10pm – 12pm French time –we held a minutes’ silence, holding “Je suis Charlie”signs and candles. It was simple but beautiful, everybody dressed in white, standing united so far away from our country.
After the Charlie Hebdo shooting, the shooting of several police, two hostage situations and the death of the gunmen, there have been many reactions. I prefer to focus on the good ones: the huge solidarity all over the world, all over France, even from people who didn’t quite like Charlie Hebdo but support press freedom.
Everyone has a right to their personal beliefs, but killing innocent people will never be right. These terrorists tried to kill freedom of speech and the freedom to publish different ideas. But they didn’t. They just made it stronger. We need to make sure this can’t happen again.
The main thing that concerns me now is what consequences these tragic events will have on France, its society and its politics. I deeply hope this will not make the extremist parties grow as an “easy”solution; I deeply hope that the gap between Muslims and other religions will not get deeper and that people will not see Islam as the enemy. I deeply hope that raising our voices will still be possible without fear. And I deeply hope that such a cruel and senseless waste of human life will not happen again, anywhere in the world. And not in a country that values democracy and secularism.
In the past few days I lost a little hope in humanity. But the past few days, when I saw all the beautiful reactions from the world over, have encouraged me to remain optimistic and believe that solidarity, love, freedom of speech and independent thinking will emerge stronger than ever.
They tried to make France kneel down, but the world stood up.