Je Suis Charlie Aussi


By Guest Contributor

Je suis Charlie. These words echoed across France in cities across the country, and around the world, on Sunday Jan. 11, as people proudly protested Wednesday’s shocking terrorist attack on the headquarters of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.  

“Still no terrorist attacks in France? Wait — we’ve got until the end of January to present our best wishes,” says a gun-toting Islamic terrorist in a cartoon in Charlie Hebdo’s latest weekly issue. Tragically, this cartoon would predict the death of its artist, Stéphane Charbonnier, the editor of Charlie Hebdo, and nine of his staff when gunmen stormed the magazine’s weekly meeting shooting everyone inside. Among those killed included four veteran cartoonists regarded as “pillars of political satire in France,” according to The Guardian. Several people in the office were severely injured. 

But the carnage wouldn’t stop there. Two police officers were killed as the gunmen exited the magazine offices, one shot at point-blank range. The next day, another police officer was killed in a Paris suburb and four hostages were killed in a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris on Friday. These deaths are also considered part of the attack. 

The day of the initial attack, President François Hollande of France declared these shootings a certain act of terrorism, confirming the language of the Hebdo cartoon. And since that day, the French have shown the power of their own language: affirmations of “Je suis Charlie” pervading social media, storefronts and news outlets alike. 

And on Sunday, “Je suis Charlie” was chanted the loudest when as many as 1.6 million people protested in cities across France, the largest demonstration in French modern history according to the Interior Ministry. Among the participants were President François Hollande of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain. These leaders joined hands in the march in Paris, demonstrating that solidarity against such acts of terrorism traverses international borders.

And in Bordeaux, the city where I have studied for the past six months, more than 100,000 people attended the protest, flooding the enormous plaza, Quinconces, and blocking up the surrounding city streets. There bearing signs and singing the Marseillaise were people from all walks of life and all ages: my host father even brought his five year old daughter to the event.  My French friends all texted me to ask, “Are you going? Are you there?” 

It was these signs, this mass exhibition of solidarity, that demonstrated to me that a momentous event was occurring. “Je suis Charlie” is more than a social media fad, more even than an outcry against terrorism. It is a defense of freedom of speech and a defense that, to me, seems to be producing incredible national unity in France across cultural borders. 

Some American news outlets have critiqued that not everyone knows the type of satire — often provocative articles and cartoons targeting Islam — that Charlie Hebdo produced and if they did, there would be fewer declaring “Je suis Charlie.” I cannot speak to whether every French protester is well informed about Hebdo brand satire. But nevertheless, I believe their declaration deserves respect. No satire or political expression merits the response of terrorist attack. “Je suis Charlie” boldly argues that freedom of speech cannot and will not be silenced by such acts. 

Watching the news in silence with my host family on Sunday evening, as images from the day’s protests blanketed every channel, I was further moved by this outpouring. I said nothing, but I looked at my host family with a new respect. They were a part of this people that was showing not fear but amazing strength in the face of terrorism. They had seized this moment of tragedy to defend one of their national values, the freedom of expression. As an editor of the Campus and a hopeful future journalist, this resonated with me. 

One day later, I revisited Quinconces, the site of Bordeaux’s protest. On the central monument, a visual celebration of the Republic of France, remained several remnants of the previous day’s solidarity. One sign, a small black and white paper saying “Je suis Charlie,” held my eye. It was duct-taped high on the monument to a statue of a chicken spreading his wings. A call for freedom of speech taped to a symbol of the strength of France: I wished the sign would stay there for a long time to come. 

Artwork by SARAH LAKE

EMILIE MUNSON ’16 is from Cohasset, Mass.