Wednesday, January 7th
News was breaking in North America that tragedy had struck Paris, France at the hands of radical Islamists. Terrorists targeted the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a Parisian satirical magazine known for pushing boundaries with their political cartoons. Three men, brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, as well as an unnamed driver who later turned himself in, attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices with automatic weapons purportedly shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great). During the attack the Kouachi brothers killed 12 people (8 Charlie Hebdo employees, 2 police officers, a building maintenance man, and a guest at a meeting), and injured 11 others. The country was immediately put on its highest level of alert for fear of another attack.
French President Francois Hollande immediately condemned the attacks along with his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy. The French leaders, however, were not the only ones to express disgust towards the day’s events. The global outpouring of support was palpable. Many world leaders issued statements of support, including Prime Minister Harper.
I’m horrified by the barbaric attacks in France. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.
— Stephen Harper (@pmharper) January 7, 2015
On Twitter the hashtag “#JeSuisCharlie” was trending globally. People were replacing their profile pictures on all platforms of social media with the words “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie); the world was letting the people of France know that they were not alone in this. The most intimate signs of support, however, came in the form of political cartoons from cartoonists the world over.
The support from cartoonists was awe-inspiring and massive. The four cartoons that accompany this piece are what I believe to be some of the most powerful. The first one, from a Parisian media outlet, has a pencil, pen, and an eraser in a puddle of blood with the word “Pourquoi,” (why) above them.
— BFMTV (@BFMTV) January 7, 2015
The pencil, pen, and eraser are respectively labelled rifle, AK-47, and grenade. The point is strong: the artists is asking terrorists if they view free speech as weapons that can hurt them. The second cartoon, created by a Canadian artist, sends a message echoed the world over. It features a French lesson in the present tense where the student learns how to say I am, you are, he/she is, we are, they are Charlie. The point is that we are all Charlie, we must all stand against attempts to oppress free speech be they politically or religiously motivated.
— Michal Kapral (@mkapral) January 7, 2015
The third piece is provided by an American cartoonist who makes his message quite clear. We see a masked gunman standing above a puddle of blood, behind him is a barrage of writing instruments signifying that you can never silence free speech.
— Rob Tornoe (@RobTornoe) January 7, 2015
The final cartoon is by the same Canadian cartoonist who provided us with the second piece, the fourth equally as moving as the second. Shown are the Christine, Jewish, and Muslim holy books along with a Charlie Hebdo cover depicting religious heads of the aforementioned groups. The religious leaders are jointly saying “Il faut voiler ‘Charlie Hebdo’” (we must veil Charlie Hebdo), also on the image is the question “and your religion is…?” The artist is attempting to get the reader to think whether it is wiser to trust a biased and narrow-minded religion or an unbiased media group which has no underlying loyalties (other than to its readers) nor qualms about making any point no matter how offensive it may come across.
— Terry Mosher (@TerryMosher1) January 10, 2015
These cartoons along with the hundreds more that were released all share one goal: they aim to tell oppressors of free speech that we will never be silenced.
Thursday, January 8th
Though the outcries of support did help to make the French feel companionship in a dark time, the dark time was not yet over. On Thursday, just one day after the appalling attacks on Charlie Hebdo, we learned that an officer in a Parisian suburb was shot while making a routine traffic stop, as well as a nearby street sweeper. Just as in the Charlie Hebdo the attacker had radical Islamist views. The suspect, Amedy Coulibaly, shot the two individuals and then fled on foot. It was later revealed that just the day before, Coulibaly had shot a man who was out for a run. France was now in the midst of the largest manhunt in its history; on the loose were the Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly.
The manhunt reached its climax when we learned that the Kouachi brothers had taken a hostage and were barricaded inside of a printing warehouse in Dammartin-en-Goële. It was also around the same time that we learned of another hostage taking, this time in a Jewish kosher market in Porte de Vincennes, in Eastern Paris, the hostage taker in this case was Amedy Coulibaly.
It was at this time that the pieces started to fall together and the lines connecting the three men were drawn. Coulibaly solidified those lines when he told police that if they attempted to storm the Kouachi brothers he would kill his six hostages. At around the same time we learned the motive behind the attacks: Chérif allegedly told police that the men were “defenders of the Profit Mohamed sent by al-Qaeda in Yeman.” The word “defenders” being used in reference to the satirical images of Profit Mohamed published by Charlie Hebdo, something strictly forbidden in Islam. Just as suddenly as the entire ordeal had started it had ended. In a blur of speed and precision police simultaneously stormed the printing warehouse and the kosher market, killing all three attackers. The Kouachi brothers’ hostage escaped unharmed, but sadly four hostages in the kosher market were killed in the crossfire.
President Hollande, in a televised address, praised the French security forces as well as commended the strength of the French people saying that “France…[had] overcome a hardship.” This was proven when on Sunday world leaders along with three million people marched in the streets of Paris in a show of solidarity.
In a quick and determined move, Charlie Hebdo gave word of an upcoming cartoon. The magazine informed us all that they would be printing three million copies of the edition, 50 times more than normal, to be released on January 14. The world’s most anticipated cartoon was leaked by Charlie Hebdo in advance of the official release and the world was shocked to see that the magazine was not pulling any punches. The cartoon depicts a teary-eyed Profit Mohamed holding a “Je Suis Charlie” sign with the words “all is forgiven” written above him. Charlie Hebdo’s message is direct: you will never silence us.
France will undoubtedly be changed by the events of January 11-13 forever. The country is still in shock over what has transpired and is attempting to pick up the pieces and move on as strong and determined as ever. Cartoonists and journalists across the globe have shown great strength and solidarity by refusing to be silenced despite the now imminent danger. In a country that banned Muslim face veils before any of these events, one is left wondering what changes will be brought about as a result of the attacks? Moreover, what of the debate between political correctness and free speech? The Charlie Hebdo massacre has irreversibly cast that debate onto centre stage. You have one camp adamantly upholding their right to free speech saying that without free speech democracy it self is in jeopardy. The other side just as strongly supports their claim that equality can only be truly achieved when we respect others. I for one am thankful that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms currently protects my freedom of speech. Then again, where should the line be drawn?
CC Photography courtesy of Flicker user Gongashan