Je suis Charlie

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Tonight you can’t think about France without having a heavy heart. The country lost at once a dozen of its journalists in a terrorist attack perpetrated in an attempt to muzzle its press. These journalists didn’t need to go to a war zone, their pens and pencils were their weapons. They were intellectuals, caricaturists, and first and foremost men and women. They used to make us laugh, to annoy us, to denounce barbarity, extremism, ignorance, fanaticism. Above all, they were the essence of our democracy. In a bid to stay true to their principles, they often went too far, but that is exactly what they were supposed to do in the “country of Human Rights”, where freedom of speech prevails.

Today they got up like every morning, they went to work, they met up with their colleagues, they gathered for the weekly meeting. They were probably joking with each other, pondering what to publish in the next issue of Charlie Hebdo.

Amongst them,[1] there was Jean Cabut (Cabu), aged 76, Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb), 47, Georges Wolinski (Wolinski), 80, Bernard Verlhac (Tignous), 58, Philippe Honoré (Honoré), 80. A bunch of partners in crime…the crime of using their freedom of speech, the crime of drawing pictures. Men who despite constant threats, never shied away from depicting our world with crude, disturbing, sarcastic but always funny drawings. Well-known artists, whose caricatures depicted French and international politics and societies throughout the 20th and 21st centuries up until today.

Only today, their lives, and their work, got brutally interrupted in a blood bath when a couple of individuals decided that they should be punished for their work, punished for their drawings,and be deprived of their lives for having dared to show something those terrorists disapproved of.

Tonight, the most amazing answer to this utter barbarity emerges: have they killed Charlie? no. Have they beheaded our press? no. Have they muzzled us? no. Have they succeeded in instilling terror, racism and suspicion amongst us? no. Look at the pictures throughout the press. Tonight we stand as one against violence, we oppose pens to weapons, solidarity and courage to intimidation and violence, knowledge and love to ignorance and hatred.

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Those despicable murderers succeeded in killing talented men, yes, but they failed at breaking us down. We will rise again. Journalists will never be muzzled. Changed by this atrocity, and yet the same, they will keep on doing their jobs, so paramount for democracy. French author Beaumarchais said “I quickly laugh at everything, for fear of having to cry”. Tonight I cry for this tragic loss of lives and talents, but tomorrow I’ll be strong again, and I will write again, I will seek to oppose knowledge to ignorance, because only through knowledge will we prevail against violence. The pen will always be mightier than the sword.

We will not be silenced.

[1] When I first wrote this article, the names of the other victims hadn’t been announced. They are Mustapha Ourad, Bernard Maris, Michel Renaud, Franck Brinsolaro, Ahmed Merabet, Frédéric Boisseau et Elsa Cayat.


2 thoughts on “Je suis Charlie”

  1. Eclairer, éclairer sans relâche dans la nuit de l’intolérance et du fanatisme. Éveiller par la culture et par le débat respectueux de la parole de l’autre. Il n’y a pas d’alternative.

  2. A moving and yet determined piece. The historic French commitment to freedom of expression and the vibrancy of their political and cultural debate will prove to be resilient in face of this murderous yet utterly futile atrocity. No one has forgotten that it was French academics, writers and artists who first stood up in defence of free speech when Salman Rushdie faced a fatwa effectively condemning him to death for publishing a novel; no one has forgotten the spontaneous yet powerful expressions of solidarity from French writers after 11 September 2001 and no one will now forget the mobilization of people from all walks of life in defence of the liberty of thought and expression. It won’t make the hurt and sadness any less profound, but this resilience and determination to hold true to our freedoms (I write this as an historian from the English-speaking world – we share the same, fundamental values) is the way forward. Vive les principes de ’89!

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