Terrorism, Religion and Freedom of Speech

Autor: Sonia Hadj Said

H e drew first. A calm winter day. Parisians have a lunch break or are still at work. Nobody knows what is about to happen. I turn on the France 24 channel to learn a bit of French. There is a talk of cinema and theatre. Hot coffee, pause during the day, the best time to relax and breathe. The best time for a surprise.

On Wednesday, January the 7th , at 11:30 am, three attackers stormed into the office of the satirical newspaper „Charlie Hebdo” during the editorial meeting, which meant that the main representatives of the newspapers were there. This fact shows us how well this attack was planned. Criminals did not spare anyone. 12 people were killed, including the editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, his deputy Bernard Maris and cartoonists Georges Wolinski, Jean Bernard Verlhac Cabut. From the videos we see two terrorists, later identified as brothers Kouachi, fleeing to the getaway car from the crime scene. In the background you can hear cries of „Allah Akbar”.

The newspaper „Charlie Hebdo” has been targeted by terrorists for long time. Already in 2011, the newspaper office was burned to the ground after the presentation of the caricature of the Prophet Muhammad as the editor-in-chief with the inscription „100 lashes if you do not die laughing.” Charbonnier was not going to stop though, stating that France is a free country and he is going to stick to the this idea. The threats under his address did not move him a bit. „I’d rather die standing than live on my knees,” said Charbonnier.

Why now? Media show last caricature with „Still no terrorist attacks in France” and drawn down jihadist that says, „do not worry, we still have time for the end of January in order to give our New Year’s wishes.”

A drawing from David Popa shows the absurdity of such attack. On it, jihadist stands with arms over a dead body, explaining, „He drew first.” In this way, on Wednesday morning at 11.30 the fight for freedom of speech had begun.

I am Charlie Hebdo

The answer from the world did not take long. People gather together in a peaceful demonstration. There are no protests; there is only respect for the dead in order to show them that no one has the intention to stop fighting for the freedom of expression in the media, in our lives. Thousands gathered in silence with nothing more than a pencil in their hands – symbol of freedom of speech. Representatives from around the world express their outrage and call for unity in this sad time. One gets the impression that in this brief moment we forget about small problems and we join in the sorrow, anger and fear – what is next for us and how can we defend ourselves?

The Muslim world is also answering to the attack, condemning the crime and calling it „barbaric”.

Other drawings from around the world show crayons, pencils and pens aimed at jihadist as a weapon against which there is no escape, the words „without humor we are all dead”. The message is clear: everyone has to stand up and say out loud that he is not afraid, everyone has to act and defend the Europe we still know and remember. Newspapers around the world print first pages of the magazines with Charlie Hebdo drawings in support. Outrage won with fear.

Terrorist, Islamist, Human

Since the attack three mosques were attacked in France, something that is not surprising to the media. General panic was inevitable, people start pointing fingers and judging. Experts invited for an interview to France 24 EN explain the difference between a terrorist and even Islamist. According to them, the Islamists can be peaceful people, who do not support the actions similar to the newspaper „Charlie Hebdo”, but also condemned the attacks.

One Arabic newspaper stated that „Charlie Hebdo really crossed the red line of respect for religion, but that does not excuse the killing”. Islam is a religion, in which the boundary between extremism and a simple confession of faith is very thin and often unrecognizable.

One of the killed, Georges Woliński was a Polish-Arab origin, born in Tunis, with Italian-French mother from Tunisia and a  Polish Jew father.  Extremists do not care where someone comes from but if that person supports the ideas they disagree with. Woliński once said, „We provoke, and yes, this provocation strikes against us but this is our job”.

According to the Polish Muslim writer, political scientist and journalist Salim Chazbijewicz, France was the victim of a failed model of multiculturalism.

„On the one hand, the French state would have to make some gestures in relation to the Muslim community, on the other hand, this community should adopt the values that they are offered by European and French culture,” he says in an interview.

It is important to remember that people are not divided into good and Muslims. We should firmly stand against terrorists and their activities, uniting with the Muslims who share the same ideas as the Europeans. This problem applies to every religion and every human being.

Artists have long been struggling with extremists who try to silence them. Just remember the cartoon „Persepolis”, after the protests broke out as the person of the Prophet shown there. World then stood together in the fight for the right to express themselves in art. Also, the film by Nadine Labaki „where do we go now” shows the lives of women in the Lebanese village, trying to ensure peace between its Christian and Muslim husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons. Art does not stop just as we should not.

Chazbijewicz also asks us to stay calm: „You can only ask for common sense. It is also an appeal to the media, not to start hysterical mood of panic. I’m afraid that the reaction can be as drastic.”

Let’s be Charlie Hebdo. Let’s fight with a pencil, not a weapon.