After the January attacks on “Charlie Hebdo,” Paris has become the target of terrorist attacks for the second time this year. The cold-bloodedness of the assailants has shocked the French. Barbara Wesel reports.
Standing at the corner of Rue Oberkampf and Boulevard Richard Lenoir in Paris on Saturday is like having a deja-vu experience. Barriers, police cars, armed anti-terrorism units on one side, and on the other, an assortment of television production trucks, cameras and journalists looking for people to talk to.
The situation at the beginning of January has repeated itself, and not all that far from the site of the attacks on the satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo.” For the bloodiest and most brutal episode of Friday evening’s series of coordinated terrorist attacks took place behind the nearest block of houses: at the Bataclan concert hall on Boulevard Voltaire.
It is expected that the number of victims will continue to rise, as many severely injured people are still in critical condition in Paris hospitals. And no one knows whether the terrorist group might strike again in the course of the day or the evening – as was the case in January.
Between sympathy and everyday life
Around noon, the first Parisians arrive with flowers that they place beside the barriers. The popular Club Bataclan, site of last night’s bloodbath, can be seen only in the distance. In front, the police have set up a huge mobile laboratory where the remains of dead victims will be identified. People are still missing. Crisis hotlines are overloaded, and hotline staff are unable to answer many of the questions they receive. Desperate parents are still searching hospitals for their children.
Traffic continues to flow on the lane of the boulevard that has remained open. Headlines such as “Shock and Horror” can be seen on the front pages of the morning papers.
For residents in the neighborhood, however, it’s business as usual. The young butcher in his shop carves the veal into pieces, shrugs his shoulders and asks, “What can you do about this insanity?” He is not more concerned than he was before; if someone stormed into his shop with firearms, he wouldn’t be able to do anything about it anyhow, he says.
Does he hate Muslims? “No, that is nonsense; it’s just a few crazy people.” And butcher Oliver also does not believe that the government is to blame. “What are they supposed to do about it? Put a cop behind every tree? Life goes on,” he says, summarizing the situation. He is calm, and rather fatalistic.
It could have happened to anyone
The owner of the wine shop next door on Rue Oberkampf also does not blame Hollande’s government. “They have taken sensible measures,” he says. Like his neighbor, the butcher, Cyril says that the police cannot shadow everyone. He lives in the neighborhood, just around the corner from the restaurant “Le Petit Cambodge,” where gunmen shot over a dozen people in the first stage of the killing spree.
“Friends of mine had just come over for dinner yesterday, and we heard this “pop-pop-pop” sound. And I even said, ‘Who are those idiots? It’s not July 14, the national holiday.’ But we quickly realized that those were real shots fired from an automatic firearm and not fireworks. And then I thought, ‘My friends – if they had come a half an hour later, they could be dead now, too.'”
The wine merchant Cyril has a philosophical view of the events. “Under such circumstances, people reflect on life and how quickly it can be over, for no reason. In television, we see images of dead children in the Mediterranean Sea. It happens to them, just like it can happen to us,” he says.
Politically, he believes that the new terrorist attacks are related to an erroneous policy towards Iraq and to the horrors of the civil war in Syria. But he does not point an accusing finger at the French government for bombing “Islamic State” in Syria, because he thinks that for reasons of foreign policy, it is not possible for the country to stay out. President Francois Hollande has already blamed IS for the attacks. Last night, sympathizers of the terrorist organization celebrated the attacks on Twitter.
Not giving in to terrorism
There are long line-ups in front of the upscale bakery across the street. Although the government has asked Parisians to stay home as much as possible, no one seems to care. It is almost unfathomable that people here are quite relaxed and hardly upset.
A young father waiting in line feels sorry for his children. “Everything is closed: schools, swimming pools, museums. You cannot go anywhere with them,” he says. He also thinks people should go on living a normal life, as the terrorists should not rejoice in having forced people to change their lifestyles.
He, too, cannot imagine what more the government can do after already implementing comprehensive anti-terrorist measures and new wire-tap laws in the spring of this year. After all, not every suspicious-looking person can be jailed – something a conservative commentator had suggested on a TV breakfast show.
“They should resign; Hollande’s government has failed, and the minister of the interior should be let go right away,” complains a neighbor in the line. But none of the people standing around him agree. “Then we would be giving in to the terrorists and destabilizing ourselves,” murmurs a women holding a package of cake.
Despite their abhorrence in the face of the attacks on the previous evening, the middle-class customers in this stylish, posh bakery seem to be united by a collective acceptance of fate. “We must not hate Muslims now. That’s life and no one can prevent or foresee what happens. Life goes on,” is how most people have expressed themselves.
And of course, everyone sympathizes with the parents of the young people who lost their lives at Bataclan. “It is so awful; why must they massacre young people?” laments one elderly woman. That question will remain unanswered today.