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Paris Journalist: On The Walls It's Written 'We Are Not Afraid.' But We Are.

Annick Cojean is pictured on May 14, 2011, in Tunis. (Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)
Annick Cojean is pictured on May 14, 2011, in Tunis. (Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)

Amid the fear, the sirens, the horrific images of slain neighbors and fellow citizens, Parisians are trying to show another face.

Retailers and restaurant owners have scrawled bold statements across their walls and windows stating “We are not afraid.” Shows of solidarity – from spontaneous chants of the French national anthem to the Eiffel Tower lit up in blue, white and red – have reinforced the message of resilience.

Earlier today President Francois Hollande urged people to go back outside and resume the robust social lives for which France is known, saying, “what would our country be without its cafes?”

But for Parisians, the attempt at normalcy has not been easy. Annick Cojean, a senior reporter with Le Monde in Paris, joins Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson from Paris to discuss the mood in Paris and the balance between fear and defiance exhibited by her fellow Parisians.

Interview Highlights

What has it been like this week as a Parisian?

“Well it was quickly a nightmare. I must say that I came back, I was in Brazil, and I came back on Sunday to find my city in a chaotic way and totally knocked down, everybody feeling so sad. Of course I had talked with many people on the phone before. As soon as I heard about the attacks I thought about my friends, and I had lots of friends around this area. What is fascinating is the fact that the attack was a blow to Paris but the whole country feels attacked. It’s just unbelievable, even since the beginning of this week, only, 129 people have been killed, and more than 300 people have been seriously wounded. But we all know a victim, or somebody who knows a victim. Not only in Paris, it’s in Corsica, Brittany, the French Riviera, everywhere in villages. It’s just incredible…They all feel totally concerned…It’s front page everywhere. These newspapers saying four or five of our people from this county or district were at the Bataclan, so it’s the whole country who feels wounded. And people who were young, urbans, modern, just wanted to have fun. You know, they were at the football stadium or listening to music or just relaxing in a café, etc. So it’s just unbelievable, and maybe this is the biggest difference of what happened last January unfortunately we were hurt. And on the contrary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks there were not special targets this time, you know but – Charlie Hebdo there were cartoonists and also just after there was an attack on Jewish people and it was terrible and we all feel very much connected – but this time they are not special targets, everybody is a target.”

Are you able to go out and live your life as you did before?

“Well, we’d love to, we try to, we want to. But it’s impossible to say that we don’t feel fear. Yes we are afraid, of course. On the walls, on the windows of big shops, it’s written ‘we are not afraid’ but we are. Of course we are, but we try not to show that. We try to fight back. And on Tuesday night there was a special night organized by owners of bistros and cafes saying ‘we are the terrace’ [Je suis en terrasse]. And even with some friends we were just clicking and sending mail, saying where are you, and answering, ‘I am at the terrace,’ because we want to promote this way of living – we feel French – and we have the feeling this is the way of living life, and our freedom is under attack.”

What do you think when you see the world’s overwhelming response of solidarity?

“It keeps warm – it makes us feel good. We understand solidarity in that way, and it’s not only that people feel close to the French, it’s close to the French values. And the French values really are in the definition of our flag. Liberty, equality, fraternity. It’s a philosophy, and it basically means freedom. That means that lots of people share these values and value these values, and we defend them. That means a lot, I hope, people will take the consequences of this way of thinking and what is in question with what’s happening in Syria or in the Middle East, it’s exactly that. It’s a way of living and way of thinking, and openness that we have to defend.”

Is there concern that the government is now going to overreach in the name of security?

“Yes, of course, lots of questions about that. And we journalists have to question this kind of thing. But people need to feel more secure now, these are not the main concerns for just right now. Hollande announced lots of things the other day when the Congress was united for once, everybody felt united, but of course immediately we have to question what could be like a kind of Patriot Act in France, and we don’t want to abandon our freedom. So that is going to be a huge debate in the press and among the politicians and the intellectuals and our writers and our artists. But we are still so close to these events, these attacks, even yesterday it was so violent that the need of security is really high and strong now in France, of course.”


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