On the 7th of January four famous French cartoonists were assassinated during a redaction meeting of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, along with 8 other persons including their colleagues and police officers who tried to defend them. More are wounded and some are still between life and death.
Anyone out of France’s borders can feel attacked by this assassination, because this is not just a killing of persons but also an attempt to make journalists and illustrators around the world feel scared to express themselves on certain topics. An attempt to tell readers like me and you “On this you are not allowed to laugh”. This assassination is felt by many as a means to assassinate freedom itself, as well as journalism which is a sanctuary no one, not even the president, not even the judges, not even any power, is allowed to limit and attack. The press is free full stop. And if you think there is something which is racist or defamatory, take it to court. That is what laws and tribunals are for.
Who were these cartoonists?
French people feel this attack in their guts because we all feel like we knew those guys personally. They were not drawing for Charlie Hebdo but also for Le Monde and L’Echo des Savanes. They had made numerous books that most French families had at least one sample on their shelves. They were our companions through life, for the past 45 years they have been drawing. Our companions through our teenage years, when we hid in the corner of our municipal library to read Wolinski’s books about sex. Later in adult years they were companions of our political awakening, drawing every current event in a sharp satirical way. The media is now talking now a lot about their way of making people laugh about Islam, but actually they were not anti-Muslim, neither were they antisemitic, racist, nor misogynist.
They were from the 1968 generation and drew about absolutely everything without any censorship. Not a single religion was excluded from their pen, neither were a single political party or topic: Jews, priests, Muslims, Bouddhists, politicians of all parties, writers, Jesus, Dominique Strauss Kahn, Sarkozy, your neighbour, your wife, your brother in law.
Today those friends are gone. And Charlie Hebdo, a newspaper that everyone bought at least once in a while to laugh about our depressing economical situation, our idiotic politicians, the sex scandals, the corruption scandals, climate change, is at risk to disappear completely as almost its entire team was killed. More problematically, who will take over and draw freely like that? I remember going back to Paris and buying this paper to feel home again. We were cynical but we were free.
Should we be scared for the future of France?
On the 7th of January I got scared for my country. Not only have these voices been killed, but this will raise other crucial issues. What will be the political and journalistic future of France? Will this have consequences on the way people vote? Will this make a difference on how politicians talk to the people? Will journalists and cartoonists censor what they write and draw? I was (and still am) afraid my country will answer this extremist act by political extremism. By voting for the National Front even more, by hating French Muslims.
Scarily enough the 7th of January 2015 was also the day Michel Houellebecq’s book “Soumission” came out. A novel set in the future where a Muslim political party makes an alliance with the biggest right wing and left wing parties wins French presidential elections against Marine Le Pen. French society, schools and every other aspect of life are islamised in an extremist fashion, while the main character wonders whether he should convert to Islam or not. For a week before it came out, the book was already raising discussions and a scandal in France. No one had read it, as it was not available, but everyone had an opinion about it already, especially Marine Le Pen who explained on the radio this already happens in many places in France, and will become a national reality if – well- if you don’t vote for me.
FEAR is written is red letters all over this day, 7th of January 2015.
There is still hope, if we unite as a nation
But today I also have hope. Not only have cartoonists all over the world been drawing amazing cartoons expressing their thoughts about this horrible assassination with so much creativity. Thousands of people have been demonstrating in silence, in France and abroad. The last time we felt like this as a united nation is when Le Pen (father) got in the second round of the presidential elections in 2007. I remember waking up with a political hungover, not feeling as sad as today but feeling, like today, determined to show that this is not what our country is like. We are not Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Atheists, of immigrant descent or this or that ethnic origin. Race has no existence in our nation. The particular system is made in a way that are all French citoyens. We are also a revolutionary people. We don’t like to be told what to do or what not to do or say, and we are ready to fight back. Therefore I have hope that extremism will not win, freedom and solidarity will. Other journalists will take over, other cartoonists will too, making us laugh again.
I am proud as well to see how my fellow citizens are reacting: calling for peace and not making a confusion between Islam as a religion and fundamentalism. Because I do not believe this attack had anything to do with Islam, especially when I see a french Imam crying, denouncing this barbarism. And when I see that a policeman called Ahmed Merabet died under the bullets of the criminals, trying to protect the victims of Charlie Hebdo. Let’s not forget the biggest victims of Al Qaida in the world are Muslims themselves.
My inspiration for hope is finally the text written by the philosopher Abdennour Bidar in Le Monde, Resisting to hate collectively, saying that this attack should lead to the unity and solidarity of French people. As Abdennour Bidar said in his text, we should do everything so that the next elections do not become horror elections. All of us should stand strong together, Muslims and non-Muslims, refusing barbarism with one voice, and showing our desire to build a society which is multicultural and indivisible, rich of all the spiritual heritages of Humanity, and laic at the same time.
I will publish an article in a few days on a parallel analysis of France and Norway after the Breivik attacks and after Charlie hebdo, and in which way each country can learn from the other country’s way of reacting but also of building a nation. Until then, stay safe and stay free.