The brutal murder of 12 people at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris seems to have been carried out by two Islamist extremists. If the attackers will be confirmed to be related to an Islamist group, we will face once again the everlasting question of how a secular and liberal Europe must deal with the threat posed by a violent ideology that sought power through violence.
A survey by Ipsos-Mori in January last year found that 63% of French voters felt that Islam was not compatible with the values of French society. A staggering number when compared to the 24% for Judaism and just the 9% for Catholicism. The same survey also found that some 74% thought Muslims want to impose their values on the society.
The collective answer in Paris has been precisely what you would expect to see when terrorists hit a democratic society at home. A textbook reaction, in which a city in shock came together under a clear, indisputable message: Je suis Charlie. I am Charlie.
FT’s Robert Shrimsley argued yesterday that although he agrees with the display of solidarity that Je suis Charlie stands for, he is not brave enough to feel entirely that way and we should all be glad that someone had the courage to be Charlie for real. He wrote: “It is an easy thing to proclaim solidarity, but in the end it will not make a difference, except to make us feel better.”
He makes some valid points in his piece with cogent arguments to support them, but I believe that in this case it doesn’t really matter whether we would have had the same courage of Charlie Hebdo’s journalists. It doesn’t matter whether we would have been brave enough to draw and then publish one or more cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
The important message that comes along with that statement is that we all must show the strength to stand strong and unite in the face of a barbaric act.
People in Paris went on with their lives, like New Yorkers, Madrilenians and Londoners did in 2001, 2004 and 2005 respectively. They restored some sort of order after the chaotic hours that followed the attack, trying to find the courage to go out into the streets and show the world what they stand for and what their city represents to them.
More importantly, they have put those surveys on the side, blending all together in an outright display of unity — in a way that only a free and a democratic society is able to achieve.
Thousands of people gathered peacefully at Place de la République in Paris, among other places around the world, holding nothing but a pencil.
They chose to defy the noise of the firing kalashnikovs with a silent vigil. They chose to oppose the sight of blood with flowers and candles.
They chose the peaceful way rather than the violent one. By doing so they — we — have already won.