Paris attacks trial: 'Do we all feel the same about the accused and jihadism? Obviously not'

By Christophe Naudin

The trial of 20 individuals accused of variously perpetrating or helping to carry out the November 13th 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris continues. As part of its regular coverage of the hearings, Mediapart is publishing the first-hand reactions of seven victims of the massacres as they take part in, and follow, the court proceedings. Here, schoolteacher Christophe Naudin, who survived the shooting massacre at the Bataclan concert hall in which one of his closest friends died, reflects on the five weeks during which the civil parties have been giving evidence, and begins by recounting his own turn, last week, at taking to the witness stand.

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Christophe Naudin, 46, is a history teacher at a French secondary school. On the evening of November 13th 2015, he was attending a concert by US rock band Eagles of Death Metal at the Bataclan music hall in central Paris when gunmen, acting in the name of the so-called Islamic State group, attacked the venue, killing 90 people, including a close friend of his. Naudin hid for several hours in a storage room before the terrorists were shot and killed by police. While he escaped largely unscathed physically, he has recurrently suffered from the severe effects of post-traumatic stress.

He is one of seven victims of the massacres who are regularly writing for Mediapart their own first-hand accounts of their reactions and experiences during the ongoing trial in Paris of 20 individuals accused of variously perpetrating or helping to carry out the November 13th 2015 terrorist attacks in and around the French capital, in which 130 people died. Here, Naudin reflects on the five weeks during which the civil parties have been giving evidence, and begins by recounting his own turn, last week, at taking to the witness stand.

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“The period dedicated to the statements of the civil parties has come to a close. Finally, after lengthy hesitation, I gave mine. A curious moment. I had jotted down short notes so I would not forget anything, and I hardly looked at them, forgetting a few things along the way, nothing serious. Despite the benevolence of the court, I quite quickly had the feeling that I shouldn’t expand for too long, that what I said was a bit superfluous alongside so many accounts.

My way of talking, I know, often gives the impression that I’m in control, and that I’m even a little detached, and I felt out of step with numerous previous civil parties whose statements were much stronger, including that same day, [and] which moved me. It was late on, I was the second to last – let’s get it done. In the end, that’s perhaps my only regret. Because of having that sentiment during my statement, I went too fast over certain points.

I notably didn’t develop long enough on the subject that I felt at heart the most about; the victims by ricochet. Like in an oral exam, I had however gained time on the part about the ‘events’, given that I knew the court had my given evidence [about those] in front of their eyes, and I left them space for questions. In introduction, I succeeded in rapidly saying what I thought about the defendants (in sum, that they will end up consigned to the rubbish bins of history). And I recounted the moment of my reconstruction, after the events. When the time came to talk about the victims by ricochet, which was for me the most important, I already had the impression of having been too drawn-out, and that I ran the risk of saturating the audience more than anything else. In fact, I should have spoken only of that.

Christophe Naudin photographed in Paris, June 2021: "The traumatism suffered can change us, and those close to us, so much that we no longer recognise ourselves." © Photo Sébastien Calvet / Mediapart Christophe Naudin photographed in Paris, June 2021: "The traumatism suffered can change us, and those close to us, so much that we no longer recognise ourselves." © Photo Sébastien Calvet / Mediapart
For as much, I don’t regret giving my statement, and I know I can talk about these subjects elsewhere. But it shows the difficulty in finding the right tone, the right words, even if I am incapable of saying what is ‘right’ in that case. And I came away relieved, supported as always by the indispensable friends of [November 13th 2015 victims’ association] Life for Paris. What’s more, I succeeded in talking about [French culinary dishes] pork cheeks and Aligot!

Despite this small personal disappointment, these long weeks dedicated to the statements of the civil parties confirmed what I thought before the trial; the latter is indeed the ideal place and moment to give the chance to speak to all these victims (both direct and those close to them), and there were very powerful words, particularly from bereaved families. Their carrying-distance remains to be known.

In my previous text [for Mediapart, in French here], I wondered about the public reception of all these statements, because of their repetition and the horror they were transmitting. I was reassured by the reactions. Numerous people, who I either knew or did not know, told me that they were reading the reports [of the proceedings], followed the live tweets, were interested in the trial and us, despite the fear of being sometimes too voyeuristic. Since then, I have above all reflected upon the feeling that I had, and other civil parties with me, on the reporting of our statements. It’s quite complex.

Again, in my previous account, I had asked myself the question about the means of the media, from live tweets to reports, and the problems posed – this impossibility to be exhaustive. Out of curiosity, I took a look, on that same evening, of how my statement had been covered in the media. The result confirmed what I had felt during my appearance; there was not much to take note of. That doesn’t bother me, because for a long time I have expressed myself elsewhere, and the aim was not to be on the front page. It’s not the aim of any victim who took to the witness stand, perhaps with one exception about which I will come back to. However, I write about it here because I have spoken a great deal with other civil parties; there is sometimes a disappointment, even the feeling of a wound, from reading some reports or live tweets, without necessarily feeling resentment towards journalists. It is a feeling of not counting, when one’s account has sometimes completely disappeared, whereas it involves opening up one’s intimate self, and the period after taking the witness stand is not always easy.

I repeat again, no victim with whom I’ve discussed this did it to appear in the media. Most even have a tendency to avoid them. The priority remains the court. But the contrast between the detail and the light given to certain accounts, and the disappearance of others, can lead to one questioning whether it was truly worth giving a statement because apparently it wasn’t ‘interesting’. Beyond technical constraints (the impossibility, during live reporting, of relaying word for word what was said, and the large number of statements each day), there is the ‘hierarchisation’ which is quite violent. But indispensable, and so it is insoluble.

This choice, while necessary, also poses the question of the diversity of the civil parties, of representation, of the visibility of this diversity. On social media in particular, you can read criticisms of the victims who are regularly in the media. They are supposedly too ‘politically correct’, refusing hate, even pardoning and too indulgent towards Islamism. Among the Twitter accounts, I came across that of a victim (writing under a pseudonym), who gave references, for example, to the Printemps républicain [editor’s note, a movement established in 2016 in defence of secularity and against political Islamism and the far-right]. There are certainly others. That made me question things a bit. Do we all think the same way? Do we have the same feeling towards the accused and jihadism? Or, more broadly, about Islam, and Islamism etc.? Obviously not.

But it is interesting that politicians, the media, and so even victims, have this view that allows it to be thought that those placed in the spotlight would somehow not be representative, and chosen for their ‘positive’ approach. One of these [social media] accounts even refuses to talk of a ‘victims’ community’. Apart from associations (that’s logical), I don’t know of anyone talking to the media who pretends to speak in the name of all the victims. When I look at the books by victims (and those close to them) that have been published over the past five years, I don’t have the impression that we all think the same thing. Some media have dwelled on the social profile of the victims of the Bataclan or the café terraces, forgetting that they were very different to that of the victims at the Stade de France. No, we are not all – if I wanted to characterise (but hardly) – petit bourgeois Islamo-leftists who turn the other cheek, as some try to make believe.   

Since the beginning of the trial, I have heard numerous statements with which I was in disagreement, notably those who place on the same level the responsibility of the defendants and those who at the time governed us; civil parties who think, for example, that without the bombings [air attacks against the so-called Islamic State group] there would not have been terrorist attacks. I wouldn’t want, either, to enter into dialogue with the accused, or those close to them, and I even believe that it serves no purpose.

But to be in disagreement doesn’t mean that one does not respect different opinions. I would be incapable of giving the proportion, but if one takes only the statements given by the civil parties, very few displayed hate, that’s a fact. They often displayed anger, yes. But does that make all these civil parties people who are naïve and too kindly? Stockholm syndrome is blethered about, whereas it has nothing to do with things. Finally, do the media censor some victims or civil parties because of what they say? They would need to be asked, but I don’t have the impression that that’s true either.

There exists one precise example, certainly a caricature, in every aspect; the father of a [woman] victim of the Bataclan attack, who took the witness stand in court a few days ago. For several years he has scoured the social media, writes articles for far-right websites, and has published a book. He readily professes his hate, and insults. The problem is that he not only attacks the terrorists, but also those who governed at the time (and today), and even some of the victims. He also asserts his rejection of Islam. His witness statement was a summary – although toned down (no doubt by his lawyer) – of all his comments online and in his book. It was a statement that very rapidly transformed itself into a political speech, even if he denies this, and which concluded with a direct insult towards those victims who would not slip into hate like him, describing them as ‘submissive’ and even ‘accomplices’. The media covering the trial relayed all that (just as also the other statements, which were very powerful and centred on the deceased victims), and he had been invited by news programmes and rolling news channels the previous weeks. So, no censorship. But is this man more representative than all the other victims about who journalists speak? I don’t think so.

Does one have the right to criticise this sort of behaviour? The question is asked even among the other victims, because we all know that the traumatism suffered can change us (and those close to us) so much that we no longer recognise ourselves. The term ‘to judge’ comes up often.

Does hate allow everything? Personally, I think not. I have never felt hate for the terrorists, and it’s not because I’m blindly naïve. I didn’t force myself. I was even astonished. But I perfectly understand that one can hate those who shot at us, who killed or wounded those close to us. The concern for me is when hate begins to be instrumentalised, even ours, and, worse still, when other victims are the targets. The man I mentioned above does not satisfy himself with hating terrorists, politicians – or to give barely disguised praise for terrorism by hailing the perpetrator of the Christchurch attacks [in New Zealand in March 2019], who assassinated more than 50 Muslims; he also spits on the other victims, fathers like him, or direct victims like his daughter. Hate takes the blame for everything.

We can all put up with criticism, obviously. We are not fragile little things. The witness statements over the last weeks even prove the contrary. We are not all in agreement with each other, and fortunately so. Nor does anyone prevent us from presenting our opinions in the media. I don’t think refusing instrumentalization and insults is too much to ask for, whether by the media, politicians or other victims. On the other hand, when it occurs there is no question of letting it pass. I don’t turn the other cheek.”

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Christophe Naudin has published a book containing the unedited diaries he kept for three years following the November 13th 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, entitled Journal d'un rescapé du Bataclan. Être historien et victime d'attentat (“The journal of a survivor of the Bataclan. To be a historian and victim of a terrorist attack”), published in October 2020 by Libertalia, priced 10 euros.

  • The original French version of the above text by Christophe Naudin can be found here.

English version by Graham Tearse

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