Je Suis, Charlie
When a team of terrorists sprayed bullets through the publication offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris – murdering wantonly, I was studying French in the southern town of Villefranche-sur-Mer, close to the city of Nice along the Riviera. During lunch our instructors led us in standing together for a silent minute to pay tribute to the slain journalists. Within days an inspired singer/songwriter fellow student, Crystal Stafford, composed a spellbinding guitar song related to the event – with English and French lyrics (thanks for the fine video footage and editing, Jacob Beullens).
Meanwhile, we waited for over a week before the new issue of Charlie was available to purchase. The print run – normally 30,000 – suddenly exceeded three million copies in the aftermath of the onslaught.
In the local Villefranche bar – Chez Betty – locals sat glued before the television watching news about the hunt for the assassins. I noticed that below the television hung a photograph of New York’s twin towers. The image was weathered and had obviously been there for years – evidence of solidarity from our French allies concerning the 9/11 attacks on U.S. soil in 2001.
Suddenly, teams of soldiers clutching automatic rifles began patrolling through French cities in teams of three, while police turned more vigilant and attentive and spent more time speaking with residents they knew (and didn’t know) in the towns and cities where they operated.
At first I wondered who Charlie Hebdo was – perhaps he had been killed? We learned from our language instructors that a daily newspaper is referred to as un quotidien, a monthly magazine is referred to as un mensuel, and a periodical published weekly or each two weeks – is un hebdomadaire. Hence – Hebdo. The name of this bi-weekly satirical publication is, simply, Charlie.
The fact that after the attack the periodical printed the cover image they did – a bearded man saying tout est pardonné (all is forgiven) – revealed how firmly ingrained the truth is that France is an unwavering guardian of freedom of speech. Having just returned from four years living in Asia, I still receive security alerts via email. These informed me that rallies against the new post-attack Hebdo publication with this image on the cover were expected, and that ‘violence may occur…militant attacks possible, and violent unrest is possible….protesters may block roads and vandalize surrounding businesses and vehicles…bomb threats and…security scares…may target diplomatic facilities.’ In one Asian city the brothers who committed the murders were instantly considered by many to be martyrs, and dozens participated in a memorial service for them.
Is religion not supposed to be an organized means of assisting individuals find peace and inner contentment through spiritual guidance? Forgive my being mystified as to how attacks, bomb threats, vandalism, security scares, and organized raids featuring bloody assassinations fit into any paradigm of religion ostensibly associated with peace.
I salute Publishers Weekly Magazine for their special issue titled Je Suis Charlie (including a section titled Nous Sommes Tous Charlie (We are all Charlie) and their call for donations to assist organizations supporting freedom of expression.
I just spent years living in a country plagued by the Taliban. I’ll not make any high level geopolitical statements or draw any universal wisdom from this event in France. The truth is, it’s difficult to be tolerant of fools who try to wield religion – any religion – as a lame excuse to carry out self-centered acts of hate and violence. And the hard-won, rare, beautiful right we cherish as freedom of speech? In the wake of this Paris slaughter, many, many more people – especially youth – now truly (perhaps for the first time ever) appreciate its value. It would have been best had the attack never occurred. But it has. And for that global nudge in awareness, that unexpected shift of paradigm for many toward freedom of speech – Merci, Charlie.