Last week, a friend who counted Stephane Charbonnier, the slain editor of Charlie Hebdo among his friends, wrote a bunch of us an email entitled “Je suis effondré,” which literally means “I am collapsed,” and translates better into “I am devastated.”
Even though his email was eloquent and emotional, I cannot begin to imagine the depth of his devastation. But I am no less shocked. I cannot comprehend how more than 12 people were killed because a few of them drew cartoons, no matter how controversial or offensive to some.
What happened in Paris, at the Charlie Hebdo offices, is heinous, shocking, horrific, unimaginable. There are too many words to describe it, and none of them is sufficient. It is a great loss to the French press to have lost these creative, talented artists. It is a greater loss to all the families who lost someone in this massacre. I keep thinking of them, of those who kissed their loved ones good-bye in the morning not knowing that they would never again see them alive.
One of my first reactions when I heard the news was to think that the Charlie Hebdo employees should have been in a highly secured building, a fortress-like structure with a heavily armed team. But, this is nonsense, not only because of the logistical and financial costs, but because of the irony: those who believe in freedom in hiding; those who kill to suppress it, free to roam around.
I keep thinking of what Stephane Charbonnier said in one of his interviews “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.” Little did he know that this phrase would provide some consolation after the bloodshed in which he lost his life, at least as far as the cartoonists are concerned. These men died doing (and for) what they loved.
Courage, incredible courage, that most don’t have, including myself: “Many Outlets Are Censoring Charlie Hebdo’s Satirical Cartoons After Attack.” A close friend who lives in Paris told me that she wished that all newspapers and media outlets would simultaneously publish a Charlie Hebdo image, that only then they could really say “Je Suis Charlie.”
She has a point. But, still, there is light in all of this darkness. The first coming the very same night of the massacre, with the gunmen still at large, from a few lightbulbs and hundreds of thousands of French citizens with a simple but powerful message:
I am in awe of the response of the French people, of their courage, their defiance, and their determination to stand for what they call “liberté d’expression,” a phrase that is so much more encompassing than our own “freedom of speech,” and so appropriate to emphasize the right of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists to draw as they wished.
I am encouraged to see the millions of people who marched in Paris last night led by world leaders, even as I am disappointed that there was not a single senior official present from the U.S. I keep thinking about the headline “We Are All Americans” that appeared in the French newspaper Le Monde a few days after the September 11 attacks, and how touched I was by it.
Today, I not only consider Le Monde’s 2001 declaration a sign of support, but a statement of both, fact and necessity. All of us, regardless of race or religion, who believe in freedom, tolerance, and brotherhood are vulnerable in the face of extremists who believe in death and destruction above all. What happened in Paris can happen anywhere, at any time. So we must stand united. We must remember that there is more good than evil in this world and that there are many more like us than like them.
This time, it is our turn to support our French brothers and sisters. I do, with both the frightening and hopeful realization that it’s not just that “Je Suis Charlie,” we all are.