One year after Paris attacks, how France is commemorating its '9/11'

The Bataclan venue where attackers killed 90 people last November is reopening on Saturday night. But for many in France, the anxiety and societal fissures will take longer to heal. 

Kamil Zihnioglu/AP
People take pictures in front of the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, France, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.

Sting is schedule to perform at the reopening of Paris’ Bataclan concert hall on Saturday evening, the eve of the first anniversary of last year’s terrorist attacks targeting the venue and several other sites around the city.

The singer’s performance is intended to inaugurate a string of vigils and memorial-unveilings planned for Sunday and attended by French President Francois Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. Six plaques will go up, to commemorate each of the places where people died. In total, 130 people were killed, including 90 at the Bataclan, and hundreds more were injured.

Juliette Meadel, France’s minister for aid to victims of the atrocity, says the ceremonies’ tone will be one of “sobriety,” according to the Guardian, as the government seeks to avoid appearing as though it is exploiting the occasion in the months leading up to national elections.

That tone would seem to befit the mood of the country, which has struggled to find a path beyond the scissions and anxieties created by the attacks. The traumas inflicted by that day are still fresh for some survivors and their loved ones, with hundreds in counseling and almost two dozen victims still hospitalized. 

"I feel the distress, the fatigue,” said Emmanuel Domenach, a survivor of the attack on the Bataclan and vice president of a survivors group, in an interview with German news outlet Deutsche Welle. "Psychologically, I'm reliving many things and it's not easy to deal with.”

Fallout hasn’t just brought about the political ascent of the far-right that aims at unraveling the country’s recent history of multiculturalism. It has also tested France’s commitment to laïcité, its peculiar version of secularism, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Sara Miller Llana and Colette Davidson wrote last week:

As Islam gets conflated with terrorism and religion generally has gotten tied up in identity politics, France is struggling to balance its secularly driven commitment to laïcité with increasing determination among the country’s religious communities to express their faith in public.

“The French have become less tolerant about the expression of religion in shared or common space, in the street, on the beaches, in the public square,” says Jean-Paul Willaime, an expert on laïcité and religion at the EPHE, or Practical School of Higher Studies. “It makes religious groups, whether Catholic or Protestants, Jews or Muslims, react ... and want to further express their identity in public places.” 

French authorities have appealed for unity. But their response – calling the threat’s weight “heavy and permanent,” writing off future terrorist attacks as inevitable, ramping up its bombardment of the Islamic State and hugely expanding an often-maladroit system of surveillance – has done little to dispel fears and ease social tensions for some.

“[W]e have entered a new era, leaving carefree times in the past,” wrote interior minister Manuel Valls in an op-ed on Saturday.

Most of the security measures taken by French authorities are legal only under the state of emergency declared in the immediate wake of the attacks and still in effect. And human rights groups say raids and other measures are aimed almost exclusively at Muslims and frequently snare innocent people.

“There is little evidence that this approach is working and it comes at a cost to fundamental rights,” wrote the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights in a recent report.

Sting told the Associated Press on Saturday that proceeds from the concert would go to two charities that help survivors. Family members of those who died in the Bataclan may be among those attending, having been given tickets by organizers. But not all of them.

"I don't want to put a foot in the Bataclan,” said Jean Marie de Peretti, father of victim Aurelie de Peretti, in an interview with the AP. “Even if Sting is a legend. I'm staying with my family tonight.”

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