Words by John Brunton*
Photo by Tatyana Palyga for Positive Magazine
It is always very different for a journalist when you consciously report on an event compared to when you are actually involved in the event as it takes place.
The latter has been the case for the last few days for me, living through what has been a quite incredible time in Paris. News travels fast today and it was only an hour after the actual attack on Charlie Hebdo that everyone in my local bistrot was trying to come to terms with the killing of cartoonists who have been a part of the fabric of France’s Free Speech since the days of the street revolution of May 1968. On a personal level, this was also very close to home, as I live nearby to Charlie Hebdo’s offices and have colleagues and friends of the cartoonists and journalists who were assasinated. The next morning, no one was given time to recover as we woke up to news of the Montrouge killing, and the national mood of outrage began to be mixed with one of fear, with everyone suddenly becoming nervous at the sound of a police siren. That became even more the case on Friday morning with the attack on the Jewish grocery, again a few hundred yards from my home, where I do my Saturday shopping at the Vincennes market. The tension mounted the whole day, with a feeling that time was standing still in Paris until the early evening and the successful storming of the two siege locations.
The next 48 hours seemed to pass in a blur, with one and half million people taking to the streets for Sunday’s memorable Republican March and declaring themselves #JeSuisCharlie – scenes never before seen, with Francois Holland declaring the Paris had become the Capital of the World.
I can testify that this was certainly a unique occasion, and the mood was perhaps even more intense than at similar moments I have also witnessed – the death of Diana in Paris, the Twin Towers in New York, the passing away of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. But how long will the euphoria of Sunday’s march last? And when will there be answers to the many questions prompted by this atrocious attack? Instead of recognising that the crucial solution to future terrorist attacks is to ask why these people are becoming terrorists in the first place – alienation in French society, the ‘no future’ of young people in the banlieu, the lack of integration in France that still has long-ignored roots in the France’s colonial domination of Algeria. Instead, the likely response will be a French version of the Patriot Act, new powers of surveillance of phones and internet – all the things the liberal press have been denouncing in the wake of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden. Though this is the same liberal press in Britain and America whose solidarity with Charlie Hebdo does not cross the danger line of reprinting their cartoons. And what of the news that the solemn Minute of Silence for Charlie Hebdo was often ignered in French schools in the banlieu, with children as young as 10, refusing to take part. That is where the problem of future terrorist attacks lies.
*John Brunton is a british photojournalist based in Paris and Venice. He published his works with the most important magazine and newspapers, such as The Guardian, The Independent, The Observer and many others.