Balancing Fear and Defiance: Paris in the Wake of the Charlie Hebdo Massacre

Paris has had a difficult start to 2015. In the first weeks, there have been 17 victims to date of a horrific terror attack that started with the deaths of journalists at a satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. In addition to the journalists, among them cartoonists, an economist, a proofreader, and other magazine staff, a caretaker and two police officers were also killed in cold blood. Then, another police officer shot dead in another part of the city. A jogger shot while running in a park. And finally, four hostages murdered at a Kosher supermarket. All victims of a small group of people bent on wreaking havoc and putting fear in the hearts of Parisians and, by extension, the rest of the world.


The result has been a mixture of both fear and defiance among the citizens of Paris. To say that people were not afraid in the wake of the attacks would be untrue. Of course people were afraid. Innocent humans were brutally murdered, terrorists were on the lose, and the French intelligence agency believes that at least 6 more people linked to the same terror cell remain on the loose today. It would be irresponsible to brush those things off as inconsequential.

But there is a difference between feeling fear and letting terror run your life. The French decided the very day of the attacks that they would not be brought to their knees by terrorists. They took to the streets in a show of support for the fallen in the thousands, silently holding up pens in tribute to the fallen. It was those spontaneous rallies that spurred the decision by leaders to hold a march on Sunday, in which over 1.5 million Parisians participated, over 3 million marched across the country, and countless others participated worldwide. Despite the fear of ongoing reprisals, they overcame their fear to stand together in a show of defiance against the terrorists.

As I write this, I am sitting at a table in our rental apartment, looking out over the busy street below. The market is going strong, and there are plenty of seniors with their carts doing their shopping. The elementary school just on the corner has children running around the courtyard, and the park beside it is full of parents with children too young for school toddling around the playground. The difference is that now there are signs in front of the conservatory warning people not to park in front of it as a result of the heightened terror level. There are guards in front of the school who weren't there last week, and the increased police presence everywhere is hard to miss.

In the background, the funerals for the three slain police officers is being broadcast, interspersed with coverage of the funerals of the four hostages killed in the Kosher market. Almost every channel is covering the various funerals, and the government has announced it will be coming up with a new strategy to fight terrorists in the coming months.

Fear, sadness, disbelief, defiance- a warring of several emotions comes through in the coverage I've seen in France, in the conversations on the street, in the comments I've read on social networks. Not everyone feels solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo journalists, criticizing their insistence on publishing cartoons meant to provoke and insult, although most agree that they did not deserve to die for their cartoons.

And yet, in the face of ongoing threats, the magazine has chosen defiance as their response. The magazine will be published tomorrow as usual, with contributions only from original members of the staff. They turned down offers of outside contributions, insisting on putting together their magazine according to their own rules. There will be a print run of three million copies, rather than the customary 60, 000.

What makes this defiant? The cover will be a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed, shedding a tear and holding a "Je suis Charlie" sign, with the title "All is forgiven" in French.  The cover was drawn by the artist "Luz", who was spared death by arriving late to an editorial meeting after being out celebrating his birthday. It illustrates the magazine's intent to continue as before- with provocative, and perhaps even dangerous, art that pushes the boundaries.

The authors are no doubt aware of the potential for further violent reprisals, and have chosen to stand defiant in the face of those threats. There is no doubt in my mind that they are also afraid of what may come as a result, but despite their fear have chosen to embrace their slain colleague's oft-repeated quote "I would rather die standing than live on my knees."

Only time will tell whether the new issue will spark even more violence, but in the meantime, life in Paris seems to be continuing as usual. Fear is present, certainly, but the outward emotion is one of defiance in the face of that fear. I am anxious to see the reactions tomorrow once the new Charlie Hebdo is published. It has not yet been released and already there is debate over the cover choice and whether the magazine has gone too far in yet again taunting those who may be offended by it. I truly wish that animated debate be the extent of the reactions, and that violence not rear its ugly head once again.