Vigil held at 12pm in front of the town hall in La Rochelle, France.

Vigil held at 12pm in front of the town hall in La Rochelle, France.

Defenders of free speech gather around the world to pay their respects for those killed in Paris on the 7th of January.

As a British expat who grew up in France, I am more than aware of the level of importance that the French associate with freedom of expression. The feeling in France at the moment is that the country as a whole, and the foundations of the Republic, have been attacked, with one image being shared on Facebook stating“12 dead, 66 million injured”, demonstrating the extent to which the general public is feeling affected by the events that have unfolded in Paris. As we went out today to pay our respects at 12pm, people were crying in public, holding up their “Je Suis Charlie” placards and laying down piles of biros in a peaceful demonstration of respect and defiance. Far from being scared into silence, the French are uniting in the face of adversity and many national newspapers have published copies of the most controversial Charlie l’Hebdo covers as their way of showing that the terrorists will not succeed in restricting freedom of speech.

The atmosphere across the country was sombre today, as another shooting took place in Paris this morning. Driving through villages, flags were flying at half mast outside fire stations and police stations, and others were tied up with black ribbons outside town halls. Across social media, people are sharing a quote by Voltaire that translates as “I might disagree with your opinion, but I am willing to give my life for your right to express it”. I can remember sitting through citizenship lessons at school, discussing how freedom of speech was one of the foundations for the French Republic and how we were incredibly lucky to live in a country where we are free to publish what we wish. I think the concept of this freedom being threatened is what has hit the nation so hard.

Capt -Charlie Hebdo_film qui embrasse le monde musulman-1

People here seem to be drawing comfort from the vigils held across the world in support of those killed, a show of solidarity demonstrating just how many people hold freedom of speech close to their heart. However, whilst unity appears to be at the heart of how people are coming to terms with these events, the fear of further attacks or revenge attacks is present in everyone’s minds. For now, it is fair to say that people across the world will be extra cautious, as the threat of terror attacking some of our basic freedoms is seemingly becoming a sad reality.

As students, we can use these events as a cue to reflect on how lucky we are to live in an era where we are free to express our opinions in so many ways. The continual presence of student media as a powerful outlet for the student voice to be heard across the world , the rise of social media allowing everyone to say their piece and reach a wider audience than ever; but we must also remember that there are many countries where these freedoms have been taken away from their citizens. Countries where media is heavily controlled by the government, where internet access is restricted and people are banned from expressing their true opinion. Whilst media censorship is a touchy subject in most countries, in comparison to some, the UK is a pretty good place to live if you’re opinionated, and we should all make the most of this.

The fallout from these attacks could lead to all sorts of consequences, but the way in which people have been reacting thus far has been a true show of how humanity crosses language and culture barriers like nothing else. Scenes of people uniting, who have all felt affected by an attack on freedom. Defiance is the word of the moment, with thousands of people gathering in city centres across France tonight, coming together when faced with adversity, as they have so many times in the past. The important message is that this attack shouldn’t lead to hatred towards any individual group of people, but unity in the defence of our right to express ourselves. Charlie Hebdo have vowed to print 1 million copies of the magazine next week, an edition that will be filled with cartoons donated by artists across the world and have said in a statement that “stupidity will not win” before going on to say “I don’t know how we’ll write it, we’ll write it with our tears.”