However hard I tried, when I sat down in front my keyboard this week, I just could not write about the Eiffel Tower, macarons, or the latest hipster coffee shop in Paris.
Many lives (including mine) have been changed forever over the last ten days. Surely, everything has been said about the terrorist attacks in France. Is one more story really necessary? If your answer is “no,” you may want to move on, because this story is about Charlie Hebdo, and what last week’s events meant to French people.
This story is dedicated to all the victims, the men and women who died at the hand of terrorists, and the wounded, still hospitalized, Philippe Lançon, Laurent ‘Riss’ Sourisseau, Simon Fieschi and Fabrice Nicolino.
This past week, as the world watched, France made me proud. An estimated 3.7 million French people, (notice I did not write “world leaders,”) still traumatized and shocked by the terrorist attacks, stood up. They took a stand against violence and voiced their support of freedom of expression, and Republican values: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. In typical French fashion, crowds took to the streets all over the country, and marched peacefully for hours, united. It was a beautiful sight. Support poured in from around the world.
For those of you who missed the news that day, take a look at the beautiful photos talented photographer Peter Turnley took during the Paris rally. Look closely at people’s faces, and how diverse they are.
That was then. This is now. Since the rally, there has been non-stop media coverage, in France, and around the world. I may be more attuned to media coverage in the US because I live in Seattle. Everything – anything – has been said, and written, about Charlie Hebdo, the infamous Muhammad caricatures, the attacks, their causes and consequences. The media have printed the killers’ names every chance they get, ad nauseam. Just this morning, three articles by the New York Times popped up in my Facebook feed: “From Scared Amateur to Slaughterer,” (details the lives of the two Charlie Hebdo killers,) “Patriot Act Idea Rises in France and Is Ridiculed,” (interesting readers’ comments followed,) “Body of One of the Terrorists in Charlie Hebdo Attacks to be Buried in Paris Suburbs.”
One thing is certain at this point. For all their yapping, most news media (and their readers) do not really know, or understand France. I knew I was not the only French person irritated at the constant (and often misguided) pontification, when I read those two comments, posted on Twitter by Gérard Araud, French Ambassador in Washington D.C.:
– “My preferred quote? ‘France should give up her gaullist racist policy.’ As we say, [in France] ‘les bras m’en tombent’ (my jaw dropped.)” – 1/15/15
– “I love these self-proclaimed experts who speak about an imaginary country they call France.” – 1/15/15
Fox News, in particular, drew widespread criticism from the French news media for covering alleged “No-Go Zones” in Paris. Watch the hilarious take on the Fox News story by Le Petit Journal, a popular French TV show.
I learned to ignore negative comments about my homeland in 2003 (Freedom Fries, anyone?) What upset me the most this week were critical views of the Charlie Hebdo staff heard worldwide. They have been described as irresponsible (suicidal?,) racist, greedy, and even worse (quoting a comment following a NYT article on Facebook,) “Charlie Hebdo stands solidly with the privileged majority, and against the underprivileged minorities.” Cabu, Charb, Wolinski, Tignous, Honoré: You must be rolling in your graves. Or you must be laughing. I hope you are laughing.
Clearly, many outside of France, don’t get it. I can’t blame them. If you really want to understand who the Charlie Hebdo guys were, and why the French were so shocked by a few cartoonists’ senseless deaths, please read this interview of Robert Crumb, legendary American cartoonist and French resident. Then watch this interview of Caroline Fourest, former Charlie Hebdo staff member, who bravely confronted a MSNBC journalist this week about the US media’s decision not to reprint the infamous Muhammad covers (a decision, it is worth mentioning, many Americans do not agree with.)
I did not subscribe to Charlie Hebdo, but I always knew who they were – a talented, funny, irreverent bunch, often described by their friends and the people who knew them as “des doux, des gentils,” (sweet and kind men.) I knew what they stood for, and their targets of choice (everyone, and everything.) Their weapons? Pencils. Wit. Irony. Sarcasm. Like many, I was fond of them for their rebelliousness, and their deeply ingrained belief that, in a democracy, and in a secular state like France, we can laugh at everything, and everyone. We can face down hatred with laughter and ridicule. They must have felt alone, the last few years, as they stubbornly continued speaking up against racism, and blind faith of any kind of ideology. They had started receiving death threats from terrorists organizations, but threats and hate mail were parts of the daily routine, at Charlie Hebdo. The team doesn’t need to worry anymore. Money has been pouring in. The new issue is sold out in France and many european countries. 200,000 subscribers: Not bad for a small publication experiencing financial trouble just a few months ago.
Merci, Charlie Hebdo. Ignore the commotion. Ignore the fury. The best stories are not about governments, or ideologies. They are about people. Some good came out of tragedy. Here are images, and names, I will keep with me for a long time.
Academy Award season is around the corner. For their (many) displays of compassion, their courage, and sheer grit, I would like to nominate the Charlie Hebdo team, with a special mention for:
Rénald ‘Luz’ Luzier, cartoonist, Charlie Hebdo team member. You stepped up when Stephane ‘Charb’ Charbonnier, your friend, colleague, and editor-in-chief, fell. With Patrick Pelloux, and new editor-in-chief Gérard Biard, you steered the ship through the storm, as you bid farewell to your friends.
Dr. Patrick Pelloux, respected ER doctor, award-winning author, Charlie Hebdo columnist, outspoken advocate of the French public hospital system, and lifelong militant. As an ER doctor, you arrived first at the scene to help save lives (that is what you do.) You were too late. Yet, you were back on your feet a day later, talking to the French media about your friends and their fight, often choked by tears. You were by the survivors’ side at the end of the week to write your column for the new issue. This week, you and Luz showed up at all your friends’ funerals, one by one. Your faces said it all.
During Charb‘s funeral, on Friday, Luz declared:
“The spirit of Charlie Hebdo is alive (…) [You say] ‘I am Charlie.’ Prove it! Take a pencil, some paper; use a scanner; a computer. Express yourself, in a story, a drawing, a video if you want.”
D’accord, Luz. I can’t draw, so I wrote this story.
Laurent ‘Riss’ Sourisseau gets the last word. Riss is still at the hospital. He was shot in the shoulder, but that did not stop him from drawing this cartoon, three days later. It is damn funny!
Photographers: I gave you credit when I could. Please let me know if you would like your photo taken down. — French Girl in Seattle