Yesterday morning the deadliest terror attack seen in France happened quietly in the suburbs of Paris. Three gunmen forced entry into the headquarters of satirical publication Charlie Hébdo, and launched fire, killing twelve people in the name of Islam. The magazine had just moments before, published on Twitter a cartoon appearing to poke fun at the Prophet Mohammed.
Not a stranger to violence sparked by its content and satirical view on the world, Charlie Hébdo’s current incarnation has been the target for Islamist wrath since 1992. In 2006 a copy-cat article following the Danish satirical cartoons apparently mocking the Prophet Mohammed, ended with a court case and the then-President Chirac warned them to be more careful. Satire and freedom of expression are two immensely French values, so this did not stop Charlie Hébdo. As reported by the BBC at the time, an issue renamed Charia Hébdo, guest edited by the Prophet Mohammed himself, sparked fury among the Muslim community, leading to fire-bombing and hacking of their website.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali of The Daily Beast brings a very powerful question to the forefront of this saga : “The questions going through my mind are: How on earth are there Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers in the heart of Paris? How did they get it in there? You think it’s only these three guys? There’s a whole network. There are a lot of people hiding weapons…”
Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, are brothers, the main suspects and still at large in the streets of Paris. Both were investigated on terror charges in 2010. A third suspect, a boy of 18 turned himself in overnight. “Two witnesses outside the Charlie Hebdo office building quoted the Kouachi brothers claiming they were members of al Qaeda. Security experts have suggested the brothers must have had some kind of military or weapons training in order to have carried out the attacks with such an air of professionalism. One police officier was cooly dispatched as he lay wounded on the sidewalk. Ten members of Charlie Hebdo staff were reportedly assassinated after being asked for by name”
The brothers were well known with links to French terror networks Buttes-Chaumont, which in turn link to worldwide organisations, Newsweek has a very interesting read on this network of jihadi training in France, and their threat in Europe.
The hashtag that followed #JesuisCharlie, stands in solidarity with those killed and threatened while enjoying and employing one of the most fundamental human rights : Freedom of Expression. Social media was flooded with photographs of journalists taking cover on the roof, relief efforts of the medical services, and the gunmen casually walking towards their getaway car. Paris congregated in silent vigil to remember the ten journalists and two police officers that lost their lives yesterday morning. “I’ve seen today the images of the sea of faces in European capitals holding placards saying “I am Charlie Hebdo.” That is beautiful and it’s the perfect thing to do. Tomorrow they should hold placards of the cartoons Charlie Hebdo had printed. Asserting our right to free speech is the only to ensure that 12 people did not die in vain.” – Ayaan Hirsi Ali (The Daily Beast).
Tonight Birmingham joined together in solidarity, a massive thank you goes out to Zoé Pelletier for organising the beautiful vigil in Victoria Square, and poignant remembrance outside the Library of Birmingham, the most fitting place for the event. People joined and held placards, with chants of “On n’a pas peur! We are not afraid” and the French national anthem.
We remember that while France is in mourning today, all of the Western democratic world is in mourning for all these attacks, 9/11, the London bombings, Atocha… But it’s France to whom we need to turn our attention, we must remember there are twelve families that have lost loved ones, two employers that have lost precious colleagues, and two industries that are grieving the loss of twelve exemplary profiles. Britain and Germany stand united : Mr Cameron told MPs: “This House and this country stand united with the French people in our opposition to all forms of terrorism, and we stand squarely for free speech and democracy. These people will never be able to take us off those values.”, Mrs Merkel said: “In this very desperate hour, we stand by the French people. We stand up for the freedom of the press in such a resolute way as for the other basic freedoms that we hold dear in all of our countries.” The USA tends to take a leading stance in condemning world violence, and having previously been critical of Charlie Hébdo during their last brush with Islamist militants following a similar publication in 2012, they are today wholeheartedly supporting the freedom of expression they represent.
In a France where revolutionary values of Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité are threatened, one of the great European powers, the people are mourning and in shock of the events in Rue Meaux yesterday morning. My small opinion, is that all the legally enforced freedoms in the world cannot protect you from the select few that take offence. Those poor journalists did set out to provoke a reaction, I think there is no doubting that, but there’s a big difference in knowing your audience, those that will grumble quietly between themselves and the extremists that will act on their fury.
It reminds us that we are not immune, here in our lofty European bubble, we are not the Middle East, or North Africa, we are not Latin America or South Asia, we are affluent and politically stable by those standards, we think it will never happen to us. Corruption and abuse are rife in those countries where we thought we knew better – the heritance of empire is this politically charged society, militants and pacifists, all trying to live and express themselves and a world that won’t always listen.