Three days after the terror attacks, on Monday, despite the continuing state of emergency, the French people returned to everyday life. Schools, shops, cinemas and concert halls are now open again. On Monday evening at the famous cabaret theatre, “Les Folies Bergères” for the first time writers have voiced their opinions about the attacks. In front of an audience of more than 1,000 the French philosopher Frédéric Lenoir, the Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra and one of the most Francophile American writers, Douglas Kennedy, attempted to find words for the horrific events.
Yasmina Khadra’s words were the most vehement – he is the author of the 2005 novel L’attentat (“The Attack”), the story of a woman who blows herself up in a restaurant in Tel Aviv. Khadra, who fought Islamist terrorists as an officer in the Algerian army, with the best will in the world couldn’t imagine that he would become a witness of “such barbaric acts” in France. “We’re all threatened by these people; they didn’t ask those outside the cafés for their papers or about their religion. They shot at everybody. The victims of this bloodbath belong to all religions, ethnicities and population strata. That’s our common enemy. Period. That’s it. End!” Despite the terror, Khadra appealed against making dangerous generalizations, “The attackers only represent their crime. Muslims must neither feel guilty, nor must they explain the terror. They have nothing to do with these people,” he warned.
New York writer, Douglas Kennedy, emphasized, “What shocks me the most is that so many young people were attacked.” He owns an apartment in the 10th arrondissement that became one of the centres of terror on Friday night. “After 13 November the world is no longer the same, but life must go on,” he said. In this sense, he took the words out of the mouths of many French people; and many of them courageously went back out on the streets on Saturday morning. Among them was also French philosopher, Frédéric Lenoir, who didn’t want to cancel his planned conference about his book La puissance de la joie (“Power of Joy”) at the Folies Bergères in spite of the events. “We can now persist with our grieving, but I think that our worry – and I’m now carrying so much of that with me – is reconcilable with joy, for joy means loving life.”
The comic illustrator and writer Joan Sfar was one of the first to respond to the act of terror on social media networks.
“You won’t divide us, but only remind us how priceless it is: our way of life”, he responded and embraced the motto of the city of Paris, “Fluctuat nec mergitur”, whose meaning – “tossed by the waves but not sunk” – many have only now discovered. The words accompany the image of the sailing ship which appears on the Parisian city emblem. This could become a new “anti-terror slogan”.
Sfar expressed thanks with great wit for the American Twitter initiative “prayforparis”: “friends from the whole world, thank you for #prayforparis, but we don’t need more religion! our faith goes to music! kisses! life! champagne and joy! #parisisaboutlife
And this message has precisely captured the French people’s verve for life. Even in these days after the attacks – going out, meeting friends, going to a café, doing exactly what many victims were doing on Friday. Now that means the maximum freedom for them. The street café has become a symbol of resistance and liberty.
By Katja Petrovic
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright