France is experiencing days of madness. On January 7, two shooters attacked the office of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people. The following day, a policewoman was killed near Paris, in an attack we nowknow is connected. Early on the morning of the January 9, police forces closed in on the Charlie Hebdo killers after an unprecedented massive manhunt. They took some people hostage in a printing company outside Paris and were, according to the police, looking foward to a martyred dead at the hands of the armed forces, which is exactly what finally happened. Nobody is questioning the efficiency of French intelligence and we know many attacks have been avoided in the past. We also know that France is a target for terror groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic state both because of its secular laws and its foreign policy. Last night, some people , on the contrary, thanked the police and special forces. The French were following the Charlie Hebdo crisis on all special editions on TV and radio that have been on air, non-stop for the past 48 hours, when they heard that a new hostage crisis was happening in Paris in a Kosher supermarket. One of the assailants is the same person who killed a police officer on January 8. He was killed by the police during the final assault, along with 5other people. One accomplice, a 27-year-old woman, is still at large. False alarms have been going on everywhere and sirens could be heard throughout the city. In the afternoon, parents received conflicting messages about how and when to pick up their children from school. Inspite of all this, inspite of the repeated use, by the media, of the word “war”, the population was very calm albeit under shock. People continue saying “Je suis Charlie”, I am Charlie, both as a tribute to theslain journalist and as a stance in defence of the freedom of expression, one of the great legacy from the 1789 French revolution. A massive rally is scheduled to take place in the capital on Sunday. The authorities are expecting 2 million participants — an unprecedented number. Two million people is the population of Paris. Other people have tried to distance themselves from Charlie Hebdo, whose editorial line they felt was offensive and feel uneasy about the “unionsacrée”, the sentiment of sacred union, of national unity we are going through, because they see it as nationalist. They are a minority. But many have started voicing their concern about rampant Islamophobia, the stigmatisation of Arabs, the polarisation of society along divisive communal lines and the instrumentalisation of recent events by right-wing political parties. They fear a racist backlash, along with curtailment of freedom in the name of security. The fact that the Jewish community was attacked, through the targetting of a Kosher supermarket, also hints at the radicalisation of a fringe of disenfranchised youth of immigrant and Muslim background. These are pressing issues and they will have to be addressed soon.Ingrid Therwath writes from Paris as to how life was there in the last three days


Days of madness in France