They loved to poke fun at authority figures. They pointed out society’s most ridiculous mannerisms. They denounced racism, xenophobia, and extremism. They fought for the little guy. They provoked. Nothing was too sacred, neither Presidents, the Pope, Israel or, as it turns out, Prophet Mohammed. And they did it all with humor (it wasn’t always everyone’s cup of tea,) and cartoons. They were neither saints, or heroes.
They were Charlie Hebdo.
They were friends, and worked as a cohesive team, ignoring the constant threats against their lives. Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier) was their captain, and a fine one at that. He was smart, tenacious, and strong. The last few years, he was under police protection and hated it, but he forged ahead, trying to forget he risked his life every time he stepped outside. On Thursday, an inconsolable colleague and friend declared: “I am sure he stood up in front of the killers and called them $%#holes!” I certainly hope he did.
They were talented, imaginative and irreverent artists. They were free men, and on Wednesday morning, assembled for their weekly editorial meeting around a large table, they were murdered. Their agenda that day: Fighting racism. Ah, the irony. Trapped in that room, they were shot, one by one, execution style. Other people, and the police officers who tried to protect them, were shot down like dogs.
Shock. Grief. Anger. And a strong resolve, everywhere, to stand up and denounce a barbaric, senseless act. #JeSuisCharlie. I am Charlie. You have seen the placards, and the peaceful demonstrations spontaneously organized around the world. As of 1.7.2015, we all stand behind the Charlie Hebdo team and what they stood for. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. Creativity. The “Charlie Hebdo executioners” (even if they have been identified, I refuse to say, or write their names from this day forward,) may have planned to bring France to its knees. They achieved the opposite effect. France is standing, and — a rare occurrence — united, for a while at least. Better yet, many people — who had never heard of Charlie Hebdo before — will never forget that publication, its martyred editorial team, and what they stood for. Well done, ignoramuses.
My countrymen, who knew Charlie Hebdo and were familiar with the talented cartoonists who worked there, were hit hard by Wednesday’s attack. French expats, in particular, being so far away from home, felt the need to gather and pay tribute to them. I spent most of Wednesday online, learning more about the editorial team and the newspaper; sharing stories with the readers and followers of French Girl in Seattle on Facebook. It helped, but I felt the need to do more. When I heard of a vigil organized in downtown Seattle by U.F.E. (an organization representing the local French community,) I decided to brave the cold, foggy January night — and the horrendous construction traffic downtown — to join members of the local French community. A small group gathered at 7:00pm. We created our own little corner of France on a windy sidewalk by the waterfront, across the street from the Consulate of France. A French flag was laid out carefully, surrounded by flickering candles. It looked a little lonely there, for a while, and my heart tightened up.
Local TV crews were there, filming silently, and pulling people aside for interviews (I was selected, probably because of my béret…). The group got larger as the minutes passed. The crowd was silent and respectful, holding candles, #JeSuisCharlie signs and small French flags. There were many French families, some with young children. There were American citizens too, showing their support. I connected with several people I had only met online, members of the French Girl in Seattle community.
Then, slowly, a person stepped into the circle and placed a pen on the flag. Then another.
By the end of the vigil, the beautiful French flag looked a lot happier, surrounded by pencils, candles, flowers and many hand-made signs and messages…
Towards the end, we sang (or hummed) the haunting Chant des Partisans, (video below) the song adopted by the French Resistance during WWII. It seemed appropriate. For over 30 years, the Charlie Hebdo team bravely resisted, mostly alone, but tonight, they had back-up, in Seattle and all over the world. I left before it was over. I had found the comfort I needed and had said my goodbyes.
What’s next? I hope they catch the murderers before the end of the week, and bring them to justice. I hope not a single police officer or civilian gets hurt or killed in the process. As I type this, a third man, possibly linked to the two fugitives, is holding a grocery store hostage in Eastern Paris. Yesterday, he shot a young female police officer point blank. His name will not be mentioned on this blog, either. Charlie Hebdo has already announced they will publish next Wednesday “as usual.” Today, members of the surviving team were welcomed in temporary offices by their colleagues at Libération (another French publication) for their first work session, greeted on their way in by Parisians, police forces standing by. I know they will struggle with tone and content. I hope they get it right, and honor the memory of their fallen friends. Nobody knows if they will have the resources or the will to continue. As we all claim #JeSuisCharlie, few of us are as brave as those guys were. Few of us would be willing to take the risks they took on a daily basis to make their voices heard. Charlie Hebdo was experiencing financial trouble last year. The best way to help them right now is to subscribe. Their website is just a black and white page, with the message: “Because the pencil will always rise above barbarity. Because freedom is a universal right. Because you support us. We, Charlie, will publish your newspaper next Wednesday. The Survivors’ issue. 1.14.15.“
I will be there, online, because I can’t be there in person. I will subscribe, and respect the newspaper’s decision, whatever they decide to do. I know there are many talented artists out there, who are waiting for the right word to jump in and take over. Don’t disappoint them. I hope you stay around, Charlie Hebdo. I hope you continue to kick serious [ignoramus] derrière! This time, something tells me you won’t be doing it alone.
As for France, ma Belle France, it seems you are under attack. It is not the first time. Chin up. Stay strong. Français, restez unis. This, too, shall pass.
Peace to all of you and best wishes for the new year.
1/11/2015 update: Days have gone by. The killers met their fate. Heartwarming and inspiring scenes from Paris this weekend. I have been wondering how the surviving members of Charlie Hebdo were doing; and how they were feeling about the collective (yet peaceful) #JeSuisCharlie hysteria. The answer is here. This interview of Luz, long-time Charlie Hebdo cartoonist, may surprise you. Sobering, but necessary, I think.
Below are additional resources about this week’s events.
1. Le Chant des Partisans (The Partisans’ song) with English translation
3. Meet the Charlie Hebdo Team and the other victims
4. Jon Stewart’s tribute:
Le mot de la fin… The last word… Two Gauls, saluting other brave Gauls…
I wrote another story about Charlie Hebdo ten days after the attacks.
You can find it here. — FGIS