France's 'spirit of January 11' or the ghost of a unity that passed


Following the January 2015 terror attacks in and around Paris which left 20 people dead, including the three gunmen, there were huge marches held across France to express public outrage over the events. On Sunday January 11th, an estimated four million people took to the streets of the country’s major towns and cities, with an estimated two million in Paris alone. The French government, and in particular Prime Minister Manuel Valls, has since coined the phrase ‘the spirit of January 11’, using it repeatedly as a rallying call for national unity, notably as it drove through its recent law to introduce mass surveillance powers for the security services. But the recurrent references to what was a remarkable day have now turned sour, amid a heightening debate, as critics on the Right and Left accuse the government of attempting to invent a false conception for cynical political gain. One of them is Christian Salmon, a writer and researcher with the Paris-based Centre for Research in the Arts and Language. In this opinion article he argues that the ‘spirit of January 11’ has “evolved into a confusing scrum, a macabre dance with a cortege of grimacing masks, heroic posturing and denunciations”.

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‘The spirit of January 11’, which alighted upon millions of demonstrators who marched together in homage to the victims of the attacks against Charlie Hebdo magazine and the kosher supermarket Hyper Casher, has evolved into a confusing scrum, a macabre dance with a cortege of grimacing masks, heroic posturing, and denunciations. From the days following the attacks, marked by an authentic collective emotion, and the demonstrations and marches that followed – spontaneous at first but then scene-staged by the media and the authorities – and from the viral outbreak of #jesuisCharlie to the Pentecostal ‘Spirit of January 11’, a brand line has emerged that is supposed to federate the confusing and ambiguous effects of the events.