France’s Sept 11 is different
As my Turkish Airlines flight landed at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, I became more anxious...
The difficulties I endured the first time I went to the United States, six months after Sept. 11, are still vivid in my memory. I have many friends who no longer want to go to America because of these difficulties.
So, I wondered whether the French police have suddenly turned into monsters, but I was pleasantly surprised. There is always a difference on such events between Europe and America. Americans' understanding of security, which borders on paranoia, is not reflected in Europe.
Still, the moment I landed in Paris the whole country was mobilized. Nearly 700,000 people were marching in several of the country’s cities.
About 100,000 in Toulouse; about 40,000 in Lille. These are huge numbers for Europe. The driver who took me to the hotel said “life has returned to normal today.”
The staff at the hotel in Saint Germain, where I always stay, did not say a word that would remind me of the incident. I told my wife to have her passport with her, as I was expecting frequent security checks. But Saint Germain was like the Saint German it always is. Paris’ intellectual neighborhood did not reflect the enthusiasm seen on the TV. The restaurants were full. I barely saw any police officers. In short, the American Sept. 11 had not come to Paris.
As I was heading to the rally at the Place de la République, I had a reference to make comparisons: The last time I was here was 2013, when the anti-gay marriage march was happening. Then, the numbers were estimated to be between 600,000 to 1 million.
Yesterday, the march continued from all sides. When you are part of the crowd it is not easy to estimate numbers. The estimations were that a similar number of people had attended the rally. I had seen a lot of children in the rally for gay marriage, and there were a lot of children yesterday too, as if the French people wanted to give a history lesson to their children of endorsing the values of the Republic, freedom and democracy.
One cannot refrain from making a comparison with Turkey's Gezi protests. The French are saying that they took extreme security measures for the rally; as a result, 5,500 security officers were on duty - a small number compared to the 25,000 dispatched at some points during Gezi.
The magnificent return of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite
The American reaction to Sept. 11 did not come to Paris. French flags are not hanging on every car and door. Something else has come: The feeling of “becoming one nation.”
But you hear this feeling more from the media than from the men and women in the street. The mood spreading out is this: “Let's endorse France’s democratic and libertarian values; standing tall, without succumbing to terror, endorsing the Republican spirit.”
It seems that the slogan of the 1789 French Revolution “liberte, egalite et fraternite” (freedom, equality and brotherhood) has been born again. The concept of brotherhood is particularly underlined. The Charlie Hebdo atrocity has turned France into a “one nation” again.
Simon Kuper is a British journalist, who has lived in Paris for the past 13 years. This is what he has written: “For the first time in 13 years, I felt like a Parisian.”
As someone who has spent six years of my life in Paris, I know very well what he means.
Kuper lives in the neighborhood where Charlie Hebdo is located. “The teacher at the day center of our worried children is a headscarf-wearing Muslim named Fatma,” he wrote, observing that the incident seems to have made foreigners living in Paris a citizen of the city.
Summit of European leaders
The Republican rally turned into something of a terror summit of European leaders.
What I sense is this: The Charlie Hebdo massacre could lead to consequences affecting us all. The leader of the National Front, Marine Le Pen, has started a debate to question the implementation of the Schengen visa regime. Donald Tusk, the president of the Council of Europe, asked EU lawmakers to drop their objections to states sharing airline passenger data, as part of efforts to tighten security after the attack.
In short, from now on it could be difficult for Turks to travel even with a visa in Europe.
What of the 5 million Muslims who live in France?
The best slogan to explain their situation is this: "I am neither Charlie nor Charif."
Nearly all Muslim associations are strongly condemning the massacre. On Jan. 9, the number of people participating in Friday prayers in Paris mosques doubled. The president of the Council of French Muslims called on all Muslims to participate in the Republican rally, and indeed many Muslims attended. However, Muslims in France certainly believe that their lives will become more difficult from now on.