In Paris Jews and Muslims unite against terror

At first glance, a hip young Jewish singer and a 60-year-old Muslim Algerian shopkeeper might appear to have little in common.

But amid the sea of people rallying in Paris on Sunday, they came together after a blood-soaked week in which 17 people — journalists and cartoonists, Jews, Muslims, police officers — were killed in jihadist attacks.

Under wintry blue skies, they shared a simple and defiant message: France will not be divided by fear or by religious differences.

“We can live together,” said Daniel Benisty, 30, who is Jewish like the four men killed when Islamist Amedy Coulibaly stormed a kosher supermarket on Friday.

“It’s the idea of living together because we share the same values, liberty, fraternity, equality, to live in peace and respect each other despite our differences.”

“Exactly!” Riad, the 60-year-old shopkeeper, interjected. “I think people have woken up.”

Riad, who asked to be identified only by his first name, said the events of the past week reminded him of the dark days of the Algerian war which saw France hit by a wave of extremist violence.

“How can this happen in 2015? I don’t recognise these Islamists, they’re not Muslims.”

Daniel agreed: “Religion is fine as long as it is not used to hide problems.”

But not everyone was in agreement — to their right a small crowd had gathered around two people arguing.

“It all starts in the prisons, this is where these guys get radicalised,” one man shouted, in a back and forth over politics and religion.

Around them, people gather under a monument surrounded by flowers, candles and scrawled with messages of support to the victim.

– ‘Are the bad men coming?’ –

They show a bewildering mix of emotions — anger, sadness, hope and fear.

Isabelle Dahmani, a French Christian married to a Muslim, Mohamed, brought their three children aged 11, nine and four to the march to show them there is nothing to fear.

The nine-year-old burst into tears watching the news this week, Isabelle admits, saying her daughter had asked if “the bad men are coming to our house.”

The oldest son teases his embarrassed sister while the four-year-old, dressed in pink from head to toe with a piece of paper saying ‘Je suis Charlie’ (I am Charlie) pinned to her jacket, hides giggling behind her mother’s legs.

The phrase that has become the slogan of support for the cartoonists and journalists massacred at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly is everywhere to be seen.

“We are in a free country. We want to stop this terrorism. We want them to see and understand Republican values,” Isabelle told AFP.

“But we are kind of anxious, you never know what can happen,” she said, highlighting that fear is still acute in the French capital.

Her husband Mohamed, who does not practice his religion, said that after the attacks, “I didn’t want to leave the house, I was mostly scared of retaliation.”

“One must not confuse Muslims with terrorists,” he said.

– ‘Laugh! It isn’t over’ –

Poignant symbols from the mass outpouring of support, such as pens, seen as a tribute to freedom of expression, dot the large square from where hundreds of thousands are expected to march, headed by President Francois Hollande and representatives of around 50 nations.

Among them will be the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Several joggers on their morning run stopped to pay tribute to the dead.

Lassina Traore, a 34-year-old French-born Muslim from the Ivory Coast, stopped after an eight kilometre run to gently light 17 candles at the foot of the iconic monument in the centre of the large square.

The march is “a real sign of how strong France is. It shows that France is strong when she is united against these people,” said the consultant.

Today, Parisians showed they were all Charlie.

And as they poured out of their homes for the historic show of defiance against extremism, a plastic banner covered in cartoons proclaimed: “Laugh Charlie, it isn’t over.”


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