Letter From New York 01 07 15 Je Suis Charlie

The night was bitter cold as the frigid weather from the Midwest began to barrel into the Northeast. Outside the cottage, the wind blew and you could hear the wind swooshing through the barren branches of the trees. It was a good night to be snuggled in the cottage, watching episodes of Netflix’s Marco Polo series.

When I woke this morning, I did, as I usually do, check what emails have come in while having my first cup of coffee. There was one from CNN Breaking News that announced that three masked men had entered the offices of France’s satiric magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and killed ten. The number would later rise to twelve, including two policemen.

Eleven more staff were wounded, four seriously.

It was an operation carried out with military precision, happening on the one day a week that all staff would be at the office for the weekly staff meeting. As I write this, the three killers are still on the loose. America and the UK have pledged assistance. It is presumed the masked men were Islamic radicals offended by Charlie Hebdo’s unrelenting satire of Islamic Radicalism.

While constantly shocked by mass killings on our home ground, we are unaccustomed to stories like this from Paris, which has not suffered an attack like this since 1961.

Fear of all kinds walks the streets and boulevards of the City of Light tonight. Parisians are afraid. French Muslims are afraid; worried that this will accelerate the anti-Muslim sentiment sweeping secular France and give more wind to the sails of the Far Right.

Interestingly enough, even as anti-Muslim sentiment rises so has anti-Semitism. Not just in France but across Europe.

Thousands gathered in Germany to protest the presence of Muslims within that country’s borders. The Cathedral in Cologne turned off its lights in protest of the protest.

There will be a national day of mourning in France tomorrow and, for a while, at least, the shock of what has happened will hold the country together. Thousands have gathered in Paris to hold their pens in the air as a sign of solidarity with the dead journalists. The same is happening in Trafalgar Square in London.

Everywhere, people are holding signs that pronounce: Je Suis Charlie. I am Charlie.

Charlie Hebdo was raucous, outrageous and often controversial. It was firebombed three years ago after it published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed, a thing forbidden in Islam. So, today, there was no sign that let the attackers know which offices belonged to Charlie Hebdo. They forced that out of a woman at gunpoint.

Among those who were killed was Stephane Charbonnier “Charb”, the editor, one of two who had a police officer assigned to him after previous death threats. Also dead is an eighty-year-old cartoonist, Georges Wolinski, considered one of the world’s great cartoonists and one with a wicked sense of humor.

Really, an eighty year old?

While what Charlie Hebdo does is often outrageous and perhaps a bit profane, it exists in a country where free press and free speech are constitutional rights. And that is why so many are carrying signs that say Je Suis Charlie. I am Charlie.

They are supporting the right to free speech, not just in France but around the world where there are those, including these three masked men, who would extinguish that right. They pronounced themselves Al Qaeda when they stormed the building.

They wanted to turn out the lights at one establishment in hopes it would cause fear in others – as it probably will – but against that are the thousands standing in the cold in London and Paris and other places saying, Je Suis Charlie.

Je Suis Charlie.

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