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"I am Charlie." And now what?
The 11 January 2015 will find its place in the history books. In France that day, more than 4 million people marched as one – this had not happened since Paris was liberated in 1944 – to defend freedom of expression, as a tribute to all those who lost their lives during the terrible terrorist attacks on the satiric newspaper Charlie Hebdo by the two Kouachi brothers and the subsequent killings carried out by Amedy Coulibaly of a police woman in the street and of 4 hostages in a Paris kosher supermarket.
We saw “an entire city, representatives from 40 countries, a whole continent, the free world say: 'Enough'” (Corriere della Sera). We saw people joining hands and holding boards with “I am Charlie”, “I am a Policeman”, “I am a jew”, “I am a muslim” in answer to the attacks of the previous few days. They wanted to show they were united in adversity. They wrote history. “ Never again ! You will never take away our freedom” : after the horror, the emotion, the salute, they have shown that above all, they value freedom, equality and fraternity. But can this type of resilience be sustained or is it simply a temporary sign of a country in mourning?
When are you going to start loving each other?
Here is France’s new challenge: to rebuild society on a foundation of national unity that the demonstrations of the last few days have revived. “I do not want to have Jews who are scared and Muslims who are ashamed in our republic.” said the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls when taking the stand in front of the National Assembly, adding that as the second religion in France, “Islam has its place in France”. If today it is time to rally together, it will also be the case over the next few months. We have to start condemning those who equate Islam with extremism. “Stop wanting wars, or to burn down mosques or synagogues” is the clear message from the family members of Ahrem Merabet, the police officer killed during the attack on Charlie Hebdo. The “After Charlie” message must be a message of fraternity, as per the front page of the most recent Charlie Hebdo that its editorial team published : “Everything is forgiven”.
“France’s 11 September”
“Yes, France is at war against terrorism, Jihadism, and radical Islamism (…) France is not at war against a religion, France is not at war against Islam and the Muslims” Manuel Valls hammered home. The “French 11 September”, as it has been called, showed how vulnerable France is to terrorism. It is exposed, like many Western countries, to the return of hundreds and even thousands of Jihadists. And this threat raises serious questions about the “a priori” and “a posteriori” control over those who rally to the call of Jihad. How did the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly manage to slip under the French intelligence service’s radar? They committed crimes that make us cry out of anger, but also from shame. Should we be questioning how a state leaves young people to languish in prison, seeing them end up brainwashed and manipulated by some radical Imams ? What about our school system which has lost its way and is under-resourced, or an urban policy that has led to the creation of what some would see as ghettoes for an under-class? The assassins were born in France, they grew up in France. And they believed that they did the right thing in murdering ambassadors of freedom, Jews, policemen and fellow Muslims. How did we reach this desperate state of affairs ? How did we leave students from the Republic to become killers? It is appalling, despicably sad.
“Make laugh, not war”
Citizens of the world have rallied in support of tolerance and freedom. In a day of protest and mourning, traditional differences were put to one side and political agendas forgotten. On Sunday, more than fifty foreign leaders “were Charlie” in Paris, and all – well, almost all – French politicians marched together, to defend freedom. Showing solidarity, sending “the clearest possible message, one of freedom of expression and one of resolve”, Boris Johnson said, standing alongside the two thousand people gathered in Trafalgar Square on 11 January. That’s what the “after Charlie” is ultimately about; protecting the values of the Republic, living up to them. You are Charlie, you are enlightened not obscurantist. And like Cabu, Wolinski, Tignous, Charb, you are waging a committed and free battle against preachers of hate. “Blasphemy isn’t one of our rights!” Manuel Valls spelled out to the National Assembly. “Secularism! Secularism! Secularism! Here is the heart of our Republic.” And then, France might be able to reafirm its identity.
Manuel Vall's speech: