It was one of those Wednesdays that I’ll never forget. Around 11:30 am, two men entered the building located at 10 Nicolas Appert Street in Paris, each carrying a Kalashnikov. By the time I got out of school at 1, the vast majority of the employees working for “Charlie Hebdo” had been massacred, including caricaturists Charb, Cabu and Wolinsky, who all represented the free speech spirit promoted by the newspaper.
I spent this entire afternoon glued to my television, eyes and ears opened for the slightest crumb of information on an event that was turning to be more dramatic as the hours were going by. It was at this moment than I realized that this wasn’t just men and women that had been killed. This was one of the most important values of our modern society that had been threatened: free speech. How can you call a government democratic if its people can’t express themselves? Free speech (and by extent, free press) is furthermore vital when it comes to informing citizens and for them to build a political opinion. These men and women were killed by barbarians who claimed to be preaching a religion but represented nothing but hatred.
The next few days in Paris were chaotic. From the killing of a policewoman in Montrouge on the Thursday to the double hostage-taking on Friday, a wave of panic was striking the French capital, as the country was victim of its worst terrorist attack in over 50 years. I remember my little sister asking me, “Joseph, is it dangerous to leave the house?”
On Sunday the 11th, after the hurricane, France “got itself together” and demonstrated in the street to defend its values. In Paris alone, more than 2 million people demonstrated. The slogan “JE SUIS CHARLIE” (i.e., “I AM CHARLIE”) spread around the world like wildfire, thus proving that this wasn’t just about a country being attacked but about a common value of our modern society.
Nevertheless, some questions are still to be raised today. Was it right for CHARLIE to publish caricatures of Mohammed, who cannot be represented by human traits according to Islam ? It’s a legitimate question to ask and laws vary throughout countries. In my opinion, France being a secular country, it’s only fair that religions can be mocked as long as it doesn’t infer hatred toward its believers. But I have nothing contempt those who think that it was right for the Islamists to murder innocent men and women.
Long live free speech. JE SUIS CHARLIE