Nous sommes Charlie

9 Jan
Oberkampf, Paris, my haunting ground when in the city. A short stroll from the Charlie Hebdo offices - photographed in 2004.

Oberkampf, Paris, my haunting ground when in the city. A short stroll from the Charlie Hebdo offices – photographed in 2004.

I wasn’t going to pass comment on the terrible atrocity that was the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris yesterday. What can be said, beyond the simple fact resorting to the gun is disproportionate to an attack in newsprint. The pen is mightier in the sword in all but physical response, and the column inches spent in retaliation today have probably done more to assert the strength of feeling among the western world than a tit-for-tat attack would.

Over the years I have worked a little with satirists. As a consumer, I’ve devoured their work. On occasion I’ve worked on a project and we’ve had to ask ourselves where we’d draw the line in fear of potential retribution. Living in Northern Ireland can be like that sometimes – there is a minority who would rather take arms against a sea of commentary rather than debate the issue out. The Spartacus-like chanting ‘Je suis Charlie’ that has sprung up around the world, pins its hopes on the extremists being in a minority and unable to take on all of us. It is a wonderful chant of solidarity, but there are those who will be worrying for their lives. From those Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed, the censored South Park episodes, the North Korea-influenced/Sony marketing ploy [?] that surrounded The Interview, through to more cautious publications like Private Eye; if you’ve taken a humorous approach to dealing with terrorists and extremists, at some stage the thought ‘might they come after me?’ will cross your mind.

The difference, for example, between Carlie Hebdo and the likes of Northern Irish group LAD (who I’ve written about here before) is striking. While the Hebdo staff put their heads above the parapets, revealing their identity and office location, LAD continue to hide behind layers of obfuscation and anonymity. Considering some of the comments I’ve read in response to their commentary in the past, I have no doubt fear for their own safety is part of the reason they maintain it.

For several years I was a regular visitor to Paris, making multiple trips each year. For the majority of the time I stayed in hotels around the 11th arrondissement, and when I wasn’t staying there, I’d find reason to walk round the by-then familiar streets. Not on the main tourist thoroughfare, it was a generally quiet district. For one of the most densely-populated areas in Europe, it was calm, friendly and diverse. I love the feel of the domestic streets backing onto the long wide boulevards, the rich markets that spring up selling fresh food, the towering architecture. I’m on record as having said how safe I felt while walking those streets.

Looking at the maps of the attack today, I notice it was within feet of one of my daily walking routes – down from Oberkampf, along the Boulevard Richard Lenoir to the gold-topped column of the Bastille. These are streets I’ve trodden, that I felt comfortable in, streets I’m likely to be down on my next visit. It has added a layer to my appreciation of the shock the world is feeling right now.

Whether one agrees with mocking a religious group, or how one shows respect to others, there will be few that would advocate murder as a response. If you don’t think you should be killed for not respecting another group, then you cannot advocate the same fate befalling others. The religious should be confident in the strength of their deity to not crumble when they are mocked. And of course, you should not take residence in a democratic country if you cannot tolerate their freedoms. Today we are united in our affront, our horror, our resistance. We are all Charlie.

Je suis Charlie.

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