When I heard the news of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris first came shock and then, for some reason, disbelief.
I contacted a Paris-based friend to see what his thoughts were.
A successful actor, activist and political pundit, he can usually offer an analytical point of view on anything and everything. He had no comment. ‘I don’t think,’ he said. ‘I’m too shocked.’
If I were to sum up my time in France, the words ‘secular’, ‘rambunctious’ and ‘camaraderie’ spring to mind.
The French love to poke fun at politics, religion, any kind of oppression in fact – and they give as good as they get. Education, state and religion are kept firmly apart (Laïcité). Proponents say this stems from a respect for the freedoms of expression and religion.
I have French relatives of both British and Arabic descent in Paris and I worry for them. Tensions were rising when we lived there throughout the 1990s, the result of second generation immigrants being marginalised to ghettos on the edge of the city, arguably reaching a peak in the large-scale riots of 2005.
France has not been immune to terrorism (the metro attacks in Paris in 1995 spring to mind) but this feels different. Deeper. To me this is a direct hit to the French as a nation.
Last night Paris assembled in solidarity.
For those killed, for the freedom of the press, for the freedom of expression; pens were raised.
It is too soon to say what will happen next but my gut feeling is that this is a catalyst – hopefully for unity.
I also hope that Paris will follow suit from Sydney in rallying to protect those that may potentially suffer from any fallout.
*Author and blogger Naomi Thompson, of Southsea, lived just outside Paris between 1988 and 2000, and has several relatives there.