Liberté, égalité, fraternité
It’s been a tough few days. Like many other French citizens at home and abroad, it’s been impossible for me to find the right words to express how I feel about what just happened in my country.
Since Wednesday, it’s been impossible to focus on anything, to sleep, to think. Shock, bottomless sadness, anger, and growing fear have all battled it out in my head and in my heart, but mainly there was just this big wide void and holding on desperately to the live news thread of Le Monde, with its constant updates of how things were unravelling in France.
How to make sense of madmen storming the editorial meeting of Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday morning with guns of war, and wiping out an entire journal’s staff with the sole justification that they may have angered or disrespected their Prophet? And the subsequent climate of fear in Paris and elsewhere? The nationwide hunt for them? The hostage situations that ensued?
These men who were targeted: cartoonists, journalists, pillars of satire and vital to the political debate in France – don’t let anybody tell you otherwise – are people we grew up with. Their career and talent spanned publications and news programs; they challenged and held accountable everything and everyone, from celebrities to politicians to religious figures of every faith, who were radical and excessive in their behaviour. This was their passion and their job: to warn people to be aware, to make them think and to encourage them to get involved in the debate.
Please do not let critics who say that even though they didn’t deserve to die, they knew what danger they were exposing themselves to, or that they should not have angered or disrespected people of the muslim faith for fear of repercussion from a handful of extremists.
This is not about the muslim faith, this is not about religion, this is not about political correctness.
What this is about is trying to silence a satirical voice, freedom of speech, and one of the few entirely independent press organs left in Europe. I am not an expert on jihadists but what I’ve heard these last few days from those who are specialists on this issue is that those they target and crush, like any totalitarian force or regime, are the artists, political dissidents and thinkers who speak against them and their actions.
It will never be justified to execute someone for having expressed an idea, or for having made a drawing. And if the fact that some madman somewhere in the world has decided that you deserve to die means that you should abstain from offending or provoking them in any small manner, then we can all give up the freedom of expression dear to our Democracies right away.
Yes, there was a denouement in France yesterday and I’ve been able to sleep and stop being anxious at every awake minute. Yes, I’m proud of how tall and dignified and united my country has stood in the face of this attack, and how supportive people over the world have been, but that doesn’t change the fact that innocent lives have been taken, not only the team of Charlie Hebdo but also cops and citizens who were at the wrong place at the wrong time, and this is a pretty raw trauma.
Also traumatic, is the pernicious realisation that there are people today, French-born and raised, who can grow to despise their country and the values it represents and end up falling into the implacable hands of such terrible evil networks to be groomed to lash out against their own fellow citizens on their behalf. This is terrifying. Maybe France is late to the party, maybe we didn’t realise this in its full force after 9/11, after the attacks in London and in Madrid and unrest and bloodshed in so many other places. Or at least I didn’t. How awake I feel now.
Of course, I refuse to give in to paranoia and fear and I want to trust that our political, judicial, legislative leaders, not only in France but also in Europe, will be able to investigate the events that unfolded, analyse the roots of these threats we are facing thoroughly, and devise strategies to deal with them which protect us in a way that doesn’t chip away at the Republican and Democratic values of our nations.
Today we can start mourning, but I think we all know that France will now face a very significant challenge and I hope with all my heart that these attacks will not succeed in having created such a climate of tension and fear among citizens that it will lead to the alteration of our values, our tolerance and our will to live in peace together. I hope that there will be no amalgam, racism or attacks against people of the Muslim faith who live peacefully in France today and have nothing to do with those abject terrorists, and I also hope that the attempts of recuperation of this tragedy by the Far Right in France will fail.
Liberté, égalité, fraternité.
I chose the drawing above from French Artist Marie Bretin, whose work I love, to illustrate this post, to remind myself that it’s together that we can get over these obstacles, and that we must not forget to laugh. This is what will help us go through this, together.
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