Thursday, January 8, 2015

Reflections on Yesterday

First of all, I wish you a belated Bonne Année to everyone.

Yesterday, the headquarters of the controversial Charlie Hebdo newspaper faced an attack which resulted in the deaths of twelve people, including four of the magazine's cartoonists.

It took me nearly half a day to piece together that information before coming to the realization of what had happened.

I received the news, shortly before lunchtime, that a police officer in Paris had been shot. I wasn't entirely apathetic to the event, but I needed to have my lunch and be on my way to meet someone in town. Moreover, coming from a cultural background saturated in gun violence, the knowledge of yet another attack didn't really surprise me anymore.

I had my lunch, drank my coffee, brushed my teeth, and went to town.

When I got home a few hours later, I slowly began to discover the extent of that violent attack.

My recollections transported me to a time in September when I was a fourteen-year-old high school student sitting in the middle of her second period science class. The vice principal's voice echoed on the intercom and, in a couple of succinct lines, revealed the tragedy that had occurred that morning in our country. The confusion numbed me. Logic put forth a shield of disbelief. In the hours that followed, my teenager self would have to accept the reality.

I also remember the global outpouring of condolences. To mark the solidarity, France's leader famously quipped "Today, we are all Americans."

Yesterday, I didn't have a high school principal break the news to me. It happened via Facebook. Amid the barrage of links to news reports and of the video recorded of the attack, the all-too-familiar coping mechanism of outright denial disappeared instantaneously.

This had happened in my second home.

I couldn't remain alone. I needed to be around others. I walked to the centre-ville. In Le Mans, Place de la République became the gathering point for mourning. A sea of huddled dark coats surrounded by metal barricades greeted my eyes. So many people had come out on this cold winter's night.

I then went to a friend's house to have dinner. The television reports shared intermittent images of candlelit vigils being held all over France coupled with the harrowing scenes of people fleeing death. I couldn't help but remember how the news back in September 2001 played back in a similar fashion.

Coming home once again, I discovered that people had rallied under the phrase "Je suis Charlie." I am Charlie.

I likened it to "Today, we are all Americans." I found it strange how people had chosen to identify as being Charlie rather than French. Why not state the nationality?

I began to wonder what "Je suis Charlie" could mean. Yes, it could mean respecting those who were lost at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters.

It could mean defending the freedom of speech for which the cartoonists had been slain. Freedom of speech knows no cultural borders or boundaries and, in an ideal world, remains protected.

I myself may not have agreed with the manner in which the cartoonists chose to express themselves. I found their humor, while undeniably witty, to be far too crass, even offensive, for my enjoyment. But even in my disagreement, I recognize that the actions taken to silence them should not have occurred.

The French are always ready to give their unabashed opinions and be vocal about the things that matter. Even if the goal is to start a conversation, they will tell you what they think whether you like it or not.

They are, after all, Franks.

In the wake of the heinous attack, I see a manifested threat to liberty. The liberté drenched in the blood of  the slain. We won't stand for that.

Today, we are all Charlie. Let us not forget it.

-Barb the French Bean