France prepares museum on the devastation caused by terrorism

No other country in Western Europe has suffered as much from terrorism as France over the past decade. With more than 50 attacks that killed nearly 300 people – including dozens of children and adolescents – the country has suffered some of the continent’s worst attacks.

From now on, France intends to commemorate this collective suffering with a new museum which will accompany the advance of terrorism over time, in particular the attacks against the offices of the humorous magazine Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, which have deeply shaken the country lately. years.

The decision is bold, because France is still grappling with the trauma of these attacks, with victims whose physical and psychological wounds remain open. It wasn’t until last fall in the northern hemisphere, in the spring of Brazil, that a series of new attacks took place, including the beheading of Samuel Paty, a history teacher who showed drawings of the prophet Muhammad in a course on freedom of expression.

In addition to the death toll, nearly 1,000 people have been injured in attacks since 2012.

But project planners say the museum is needed to help the French population cope and understand a scourge they will still live with for some time.

“The very fact that we are creating a memorial museum when the phenomenon of terrorism is not expected to disappear in the years to come is a way of showing our ability to take a step back,” said Henry Rousso, a French historian who oversees the project. , in an interview.

“It is a form of resistance through culture, knowledge, intelligence and the transmission of experiences,” said Rousso, who also contributed to the creation of the Caen Memorial Museum, of the Normandy landings during the World War II, and the Shoah Memorial in Paris, in honor of the victims of the Holocaust.

French President Emmanuel Macron pledged in September 2018 to create a commemorative museum to place the victims of terrorist attacks “at the center of our memories”. The new museum is due to open in the Paris region in 2027 and aims to show how France and other countries affected by terrorism have responded to the attacks over the past 50 years, with particular emphasis on the resilience of their populations.

Rousso said the perpetrators of the attacks will also be on display at the museum. Responding to questions about whether it would inadvertently glorify them, he said it was important to represent them as well.

“It’s a historical museum,” he explained. “When we do one about Nazism, we have to mention Himmler and Hitler.”

Gérôme Truc, a sociologist at the National Center for Scientific Research, who participated in the creation of the museum, described the concerns of glorifying terrorists as a “distraction”.

Rousso and Truc said they were aware of how the terrorists will be presented at the museum, noting that the footage could focus on them handcuffed in court and not posing with guns.

Christophe Naudin, a researcher in history who was at the Bataclan on November 13, 2015, when snipers invaded the place and killed 90 people – a total of 131 dead that day in terrorist attacks in Paris -, declared in favor of the mention of the names of the attackers. in the new museum, but with caution.

“I know some victims refuse to tell them or see them,” said Naudin, who has written a book about his experience. “I would rather avoid seeing your photos. I know many victims who could not endure this.”

Last fall, France was hit by a series of deadly terrorist attacks that took place at the same time as the trial of the 14 people who helped attack Charlie Hebdo in 2015, in which around ten people working for the humor magazine were murdered. In addition to Paty’s beheading in October, three people were killed in a church in Nice that month.

Rousso said that unlike the 9/11 memorial in New York City, the French memorial will not be dedicated to a particular attack. It will feature exhibitions, lectures and films on attacks around the world. A historical retrospective of terrorism in France, dating back to the plot against Napoleon Bonaparte, will also be part of the permanent exhibition.

The exact location of the museum should be decided next spring in the northern hemisphere, in the fall in Brazil.

A memorial to the victims of terrorism has existed in Paris since 1998, in the gardens of the Invalides, where Napoleon’s tomb is located – a bronze fountain and a statue of a decapitated woman with dark, empty eyes, her head in her hands.

Unlike the reflecting pools that mark the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York, the Paris memorial is little known or visited, except by the authorities during the celebration of the national day of remembrance of the victims of terrorism in France, on the 11th. March.

“The nation does not forget,” Macron wrote on Twitter after placing a wreath next to the statue during this year’s celebration.

The memorial opened at a time when France’s mentality towards terrorism was very different. Françoise Rudetzki, founder of the association of the first victims, SOS Attacks, which commissioned the statue, said that “in the 1980s people looked at me in a strange way, telling me that we were soon going to end terrorism. “.

Today, it is widely recognized that he is here to stay, said Rudetzki, who is also a member of the memorial museum’s advisory board and was injured in a bombing in 1983 that left his legs paralyzed.

“Terrorism, whether we like it or not, is part of our societies,” Rousso said. “Creating a museum is not a way to put the problem behind it. It is a way of making it understood ”.

Translation by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves

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