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 terror 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 terror 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.” Charlie Hebdo team, 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 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.
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.) These satirists’ 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 terrorist 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. — French Girl in Seattle
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Tears, Veronique. For you outstanding insights and heart.
Merci beaucoup Suzanne. This is a story I had to write, so I could move on. It is done now, so I will move on (but will still support Charlie Hebdo every chance I get :-))
They are now printing another 2 million copies bringing the total to 7 million copies and still it’s not available everywhere. They will continue printing so long as there is the demand apparently.
That’s wonderful news Jilly. I downloaded Wednesday’s issue on a special App sold on iTunes. I have read half of the issue already and tried to remain objective. My conclusion: It is quite good. I like that they included cartoons from their slain friends. Sadly, they are all still relevant. I was also impressed by the columns. Well written, well argumented, and at times, quite moving. I wish everyone who pontificates about Charlie Hebdo would give it a try, but many probably won’t. Thank you for stopping by.
Nice, very nice Veronique! Maybe you have to be French, or (as I) have lived for quite some time in France, to know something about French history… to really understand. The last couple of days, I have really appreciated to see how this has been followed up internationally, but I have also seen the different appreciations that are expressed, reflecting sometimes different views on freedom, censorship… (of course Fox News, to me, wins the prize of stupidity). Your “job”, living in the States, to defend and explain the French attitude is wonderful!
That’s me, Peter, the self-appointed defender of French Republican values, writing from my corner of American suburbia 🙂 Thank you for your excellent post this week. I saw in the Comment section it did not leave anyone indifferent. That is what happens when you try and discuss religion – or secularism. Good for you. I am experiencing media overload and am going to stop reading any article about Charlie Hebdo for at least a week. I said what I had to say, and so did you. Looking forward to meeting you in person, at long last, next time I visit Paris.
Veronique–your words were both moving and touching. In our home, Vincent, is both devastated over the events, but, like you, he is incredibly proud of his home country’s men and women. He is upset, though, with some of our news media for incorrect information regarding some issues, but overall, the coverage has been fine. The French are strong and resilient and proud and will not allow this terrorist incident to make them back down. Thanks for the article!
Merci Cathe. Give a big hug to Vincent from French Girl in Seattle, will you? 🙂
This is a fabulous post. Thank you so much for the link to Le Petit Journal, which let me laugh through my tears…
Merci Betty. Le Petit Journal did an outstanding job, and like Charlie Hebdo, demonstrated that it is possible to get a serious message across using humor (and sarcasm.) A bientôt.
Excellent and well written post. You capture everything so well regarding this tragedy. Such a waste and so incredibly sad…
Thank you Cherie.
Thank you so much for this amazingly touching insight. It is much appreciated.
You’re welcome, Liz. Thank you for stopping by.
I really enjoyed reading your post. It explains the French point of view very well and that is needed here. The pictures and video were well chosen. It was a great post – and we are all very sad.
Merci Vagabonde. Coming from you, this means a lot. Thank you for your email, too. I will stop by this week to read your series.
Love the blog!