The events of the past few days have been highly affecting. And I am far from alone in feeling this way. Given the year is but a week old, and the hopes and dreams that come with it were all still fresh, to see how Charlie Hebdo and so many innocent bystanders have been killed, in the name of religious fundamentalism, is sickening.
At the time of the attack (7 January), I said: ‘Today’s atrocities in France were not about religion, they was about fear, terror, hatred and naked cowardice – and the perpetrators have achieved nothing for their disgusting ’cause’ other than unite the world against them.
‘Hassan Chalghoumi – an imam of the Paris suburb of Drancy, visited the site of the attack at Charlie Hebdo headquarters. Of the attackers, he said: ‘Their prophet is Satan. There is no connection between the Islamic faith and this minority’.’
These thoughts were with me on Saturday morning as I packed up the Avantime and headed for Paris via Dover-Calais on a job for Classic Car Weekly. I was heading for the city to take part in the Traversée de Paris, a classic car tour, which takes in Paris’ most iconic landmarks, and attracts more than 700 motors.
But in the lead-up to the event, there had been some questions as to whether it would go ahead. Would the police allow it given the seiges that had resulted from the Charlie Hebdo shootings had only been drawn to their grim conclusion on Friday? And given that Paris was expecting a million people to roll in for the peace rally, would our collection of classics get in the way?
As it happened, we found out on Saturday that the event was going ahead – and so, on a cold and frosty Sunday morning, pre-dawn, we all rolled in to the grounds of the Château de Vincennes to take part in the event. And we did so, knowing that the world would be watching the city within hours. You can read about the tour in CCW, but my feelings about the day are not really compatible with a classic car magazine, and much more personal.
I am so proud that all 757 cars turned up for the Traversée. My Renault Avantime, which the organiser had generously allowed to take part in the tour (despite being too young), wore its Je Suis Charlie sticker with pride, and I felt part of something truly special. Yes, the spirits of the entrants were muted, but they were also defiant and determined not to let the terrorists win.
At the end of the tour, which took in the Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées, and the Tour d’Eiffel among so many others, there was a real sense of achievement and brotherhood. Admittedly, we didn’t stick at the finish around long – I grabbed a selection of images (and tried not to buy a Citroën SM I spotted with an à vendre poster in the window), and headed to where the crowds were forming.
And wasn’t that emotional.
I came away feeling that in the face of such outrage, we as a species may well have learned – even for just one day – that such violence is simply senseless and we should all unite against it. Of course, it won’t happen, and I’m such that we’ll see fresh outrages is time drags on, and we tumble inexorably into the icy grip of the coming Jihad, but for one moment, among the million-plus peaceful protestors, it seemed there might just be a sliver of hope.