Published on May 9th, 2015 | by Anne-Fleur Andrle Stephan0
We Are Charlie…
On January 7th, 8th, and 9th of this year, Paris, France, was hit by attacks of unprecedented violence. Victims included journalists, police officers, psychologists, and bystanders simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. 17 dead in 3 days. No logic behind such cruelty.
On January 7th, people claiming to belong to a peaceful religion decimated cartoonists and other editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo. Killed by people trying to silence the men and women fighting for freedom of speech. France, Europe and the world are in shock. Shocked because of such horrors, shocked at the violence, shocked by the senselessness…
I am French and I want to say more now than ever I am proud of my origins. Personally, I would be the first to say that I am happy in the United States and that as things currently stand, I am not interested in living again in the country of Voltaire, in my own country. But that was before January’s horrors.
We did not remain as sad, helpless spectators in the face of the intensity and atrocity of the events. Only hours after the first attacks, Parisians banded together, despite their differences, to present a united front as the children of the Republic affected by cowardly attacks against their mother. Spontaneous gatherings at the Place de la Republique in Paris and around the world took place during the night, the week, and the month. In Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Las Vegas … Both American and French expatriates have reacted. I personally attended the rally in Boston, enduring -8°F. Some people had printed signs “Je suis Charlie,” “Boston is Charlie,” “#Notafraid” and distributed them people to show unity. Some came to pray, too. Local TV was on site and one journalist was desperately seeking to find the organizer of the event. It was difficult to explain to him that no one in particular organized the gathering. We used social media to spread the word, despite being thousands of miles away from our home. Despite the crowd (and cold!), I think what struck me the most in this gathering is the total silence of the assembly. Being so far away from our roots, we need to be together. The silence was impressive and reassuring, because even if we do not know each other personally, we can unite to show that we are not afraid.
The historic march, which followed this sad week, was a good example of the spirit of solidarity and international cohesion that immediately followed the tragically historic events.
A few weeks ago, I returned to France for the first time since the attacks. I was struck by the energy, still as strong as ever. The headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in the 11th arrondissement of Paris was covered with flowers, along with the Hypercasher.
Strolling through Paris, I then came across a paperback book that caught my attention. “Nous sommes Charlie” (“We are Charlie”). This little book, costing 5 euros, of which all profits are donated to Charlie Hebdo, offers a collection of texts of varying lengths (ranging from a few lines to several pages) of contemporary and classic authors. The reviews I read were rather mixed on this little pocket book. Some called it a really good idea, but the result did not meet the expectations; others remarked that it was a tad sloppy because of the very short time allotted for writing, edition, etc. However, I decided to ignore them, for the moment at least.
I therefore bought this little book and read it in one sitting on the plane on the way to Boston. Indeed, I found contemporary authors (Frédéric Beigbeder, Delphine Coulin, Katherine Pancol, Maxime Chattham) but also more classic authors, at the base of the founding texts of our free society, among them – of course- Voltaire and his famous treatise on the tolerance.
In the end, maybe this isn’t the greatest book of all time. This, however, is not why I bought it. Why did I decide to buy this book? I believe that in a world where everything moves so fast, where breaking news is constantly flashing across TVs, radios, and newspapers, where journalists always seek the more sensational and more shocking, and do so even faster every time, where you move onto the next thing so quickly… In this rapidly changing world, I needed to be sure to take time to think about what had just happened to us all. I needed to be sure not to forget (if that was even possible), I needed to try to understand, I needed to think of the future of our society. In this, I found that this little book, judged harshly by critics, fully completed its mission. It inspired thinking without lecturing, opening new trails of reflection. It made me think about the freedom of speech, of course, but also about freedom in general, its definition and its extent. Finally, it points us to the future, helps us to move forward and live together. The book presented a beautiful message of peace and I would highly recommend it.