It was a spectacle that in a symbolic way attempted to match the enormity of the tragedy. Shaken by the shooting of satirists at the weekly Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent hostage and shootout dramas, more than a million French people, along with 50 world leaders, turned out on Sunday in Paris to express solidarity with the victims and reaffirm their commitment to free speech.
Rarely has the world focused so intently on an issue like the freedom of expression. In fact, leaders of countries like Egypt, Turkey, Russia and Algeria were panned by the media for participating in Paris despite attempting to muzzle the press back home.
The battle over the meaning of the events continues, through debates on issues like free speech, the visual representation of Prophet Muhammad in Islamic history and the difficult position ordinary Muslims the world over find themselves in each time a terrorist attack takes place.
The attacks have exposed cultural fault lines in France and western Europe, whose governments have the tough task of placating outraged constituents, reassuring frightened ones while nudging communities together.
A Guardian columnist has argued forcefully that France must not give in to Islamophobia that the Right wants, but instead emulate Norway ,which rigorously maintained the rule of law and practised “more democracy, more openness, and more humanity” after the far-Right terrorist Anders Breivik gunned down dozens of young people in 2011.
Heart-warming anecdotes like those of the young Muslim immigrant employee — who saved Jewish shoppers at the kosher supermarket in Paris by hiding them in a freezer — help in creating a counter-narrative, but state resolve against Islamophobia must be visible.
There have already been at least 15 instances of anti-Muslim violence seen in France, including grenades thrown at a mosque and a bomb blast at a restaurant. These are testing times for France’s ideals.