WATCH: Several hundred mourners in France pay tribute to the victims who were killed in an attack on a satirical magazine.
Alexander Hurst was one among tens of thousands who took to the streets to join gatherings dotted throughout Europe.
Hurst was in Paris’ Place de la Republique, near the site where gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French magazine, killing 12 people in a grisly terrorist attack Wednesday morning.
A manhunt for three suspects didn’t deter the city’s residents from streaming onto the Metro to head to the vigil. People held illuminated letters that spelled “Not Afraid,” signs that read “L’amour plus fort que la haine” or “Love is stronger than hate,” and “Je suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie.”
“It felt very emotional. It felt like everyone was having this spontaneous same reaction,” Hurst told Global News from Paris.
“I wanted to be there, I wanted to express my solidarity with France, with freedom of expression…it was inspiring, respectful, quiet,” he explained.
The scene was replicated across the continent: the public joined in vigils in Moscow, Vienna, Rome, Madrid, Berlin, Dublin, London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, and Brussels, for example.
The global response is “humbling” to Dr. Aurel Braun, a University of Toronto and Harvard University professor, specializing in international relations and foreign policy.
“What the public is doing is an absolute act of solidarity and one of defiance. They’re saying we won’t be scared anymore, we are not going to take it, we are not going to allow a select group of individuals tell us what we are allowed to say, or draw, or read in a free society,” Braun told Global News.
He cites the #Illridewithyou slogan that emerged from the aftermath of a hostage crisis in Sydney last month. This time around, global citizens are standing up for democracy, he suggests.
“We are talking about terrorism, where you…basically send a chill to the entire democratic system and ordinary people…are demonstrating. They understand deep down inside how this challenges the very values of human dignity, the right to speak freely,” Braun said.
“We should never underestimate the wisdom of the public. This is what democracy works on.”
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Dr. Jill Scott, a Queen’s University professor who studies mourning and conflict resolution, isn’t surprised by the gatherings. But she’s impressed at how widespread the response has been.
“All rituals serve one purpose and that is to make meaning, to make sense of something…we have a deep desire in moments like this to reaffirm the values we have and do that with other people,” Scott told Global News.
“When we see someone’s life taken very brutally and violently, our first immediate reaction is cherishing our own lives and we feel threatened for ourselves, for our families and identify with the victims. It’s just across the board,” Scott explained.
Braun calls the fallout from the shooting a “turning point.” How the media and governments respond in the coming days is crucial, he said.
So far, cartoonists have banded together, creating their own editorial illustrations that have gone viral on social media with the accompanying #jesuischarlie.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the attack “barbaric,” U.S. President Barack Obama called the tragedy a “cowardly evil attack,” and the Union of French Mosques called on people of all faiths to come together “to make a united front against extremism.”
The media is waffling in what it is showing to viewers – some newspapers and broadcast outlets self-censored the Charlie Hebdo covers, opting to blur the controversial cartoons or pull them entirely.
In other cases, major outlets tightly cropped the images.
Braun suggested that the media’s next moves in the coming days will be telling. If news outlets followed in the footsteps of the public, they’d come together, too. That could mean collectively publishing the magazine’s images without censoring.
“The media has to make a decision and if it makes some relatively empty gesture overall then there’ll be future Charlie Hebdo publications that will be singled out,” Braun warned.
WATCH: The manhunt continues for two suspects at the centre of the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo magazine. John Maguire – a journalist with France 24 – joins the News at Noon on the phone to explain the current situation in France.
In interviews with Global News, French natives living in Paris said they would keep to their daily routines, with the exception of attending vigils in the evening.
“I will go to work and wherever I have to be. There’s no stopping everyday life for these guys,” Dominique Karsenti told Global News.
Parisian resident, Victor Ashe, said he made his way over to the gatherings and to the shooting site. The vigils were “comforting.”
Out of mourning comes anger, too, Scott warned. “I’m very worried for the future of those relations in France and Europe as a whole. It doesn’t feel like it’s going in the right direction,” she said.
Both Ashe and Karsenti are waiting with bated breath to see how officials – and the public – respond to the attacks. They say they’re worried about tension between cultures – an unease and divide that didn’t exist in the metropolitan city before.