Bringing Charlie home
By Caroline Pain
March 25, 2015
Several hundred people had gathered in front of the City Hall of Rouen, in the north of France. It was about 8 p.m. and the cold wind of January made the atmosphere even gloomier. There were so many people, some were holding signs with Charlie Hebdo front-pages, others had bought the actual newspaper and held it up high. It was like being at a funeral. The sadness was tangible. There was nothing that could be done, and yet everyone felt that getting together was the right thing to do. They tried to destroy our freedom, to put us on our knees. We had to show them. We had to stand for those who had fell that day. Fell for drawing, because their pencils did not stand a chance facing the machine guns.
Haven’t you heard the news?
I had heard the news while driving home. I got tired of the silence, turned the radio on. Every station had interrupted its programs. At first, I did not understand what had happened. And then, they kept repeating the news: 12 people had been shot dead at the Charlie Hebdo offices in the center of Paris this morning. Suddenly, everything was quiet again. The sound of the radio was distant now. I felt strange. Then I had to tell my mother. She was surprised to see the unusual number of policemen in the mall.
“ Haven’t you heard the news?” I asked her. She hadn’t. I could not find the right words. I hurriedly explained what had happened. We were in a shop, and she sat down in the fitting rooms. The expression on her face was really grave. Ever since I was a child I had rarely seen her like that. She was disillusioned. We all were.
That night, when I went to bed, I felt that something had changed. It could not be undone.
It would never be the same.
The next day, a Thursday, I woke up and immediately turned the TV on. After a couple of minutes, I had to sit down. Another attack had happened that morning. A man had killed a police officer and ran away. At that moment, no connection had been made between the two attacks.
On Friday, while the police were hunting the Charlie Hebdo attack suspects, another attack happened in Porte de Vincennes, near the city center. A man had taken hostages in a Jewish grocery store. He was the one who had killed the officer the previous day. The tension was tangible in Paris. I arrived there on Wednesday night to meet my best friends and my family. My mother did not want to me wait for my father at the train station. She told me to avoid every tourist location and crowded places. We had no idea what could happen next. Everything had been escalating so quickly in the last two days.
I was with my best friends and my sister that day. The tension had reached a climax. There were police officers everywhere. The subway kept being shut down because of false alarms. At some point they even shut down the “périphérique “, which is the belt highway that circles Paris. When we heard that, we understood that it was really serious, because they would never do that unless it was. My mother asked us to go into a café and wait until everything was settled. Later we heard that they caught all of them, the word relief is probably an understatement.
What is Charlie Hebdo?
Founded in 1969, Charlie Hebdo is a satirical weekly newspaper best known for its drawings and caricatures of political and religious figures. Its tendency to depict and make fun of the untouchable made it quite notorious. To understand what happened in January, we need to go back in time a little bit.
In 2005, Charlie Hebdo published a Danish cartoon from the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a bomb-wielding terrorist. A couple of months later, a Norwegian newspaper republished the cartoon as well. Anger quickly spread throughout the Middle East. Even though the Danish newspaper apologized, its embassies and the Norwegian embassies were attacked throughout the Middle East. In the months and years that followed, many European countries managed to thwart attempts to attack these newspapers.
In February 2007, Charlie Hebdo was sued by Muslim groups for publicly “insulting” Islam. A month later the newspaper was cleared of these accusations.
In 2011, Charlie Hebdo offices had already been the target of an arson attack after they published an issue depicting Muhammad as the “editor-in-chief “ saying “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter.” A year later, they published an issue about the Prophet again.
Finally, in 2013, they published a full edition of an illustrated biography of the Prophet.
Why it matters?
To be clear, not everyone agreed with this. And Charlie Hebdo was never fully supported by the population, especially after this controversy. And yet, when the terrorist attack happened, everyone had the same feeling: being French.
For the majority of the population it was an attack on our freedom. I personally thought that Charlie Hebdo tended to go too far sometimes. But no one deserves to be killed for that. Several of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists had been protected 24/7 by police officers since the first controversies. As Philippe Val, former Charlie Hebdo publication director, said it in a interview with FranceInfo, no police protection should be necessary, they should have been able to do their job without that.
And throughout the world, many showed their compassion and support.
It matters because I wish it would never happen again, and not only in France but anywhere. It was like a war was going on. For some reason, we never expected that it could happen to us. But now that it did, everything has changed.
It is important to care because they targeted a value of our Republic that should not be threatened: our freedom of expression and speech.
*Caroline Pain is an exchange student from France studying at the University at Albany. The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Albany Student Press Editorial Staff.