The Place la République January 11th During Unity March. Photo by Paolo Verzone.
France has suffered unimaginable grief over the last week. Starting with losing 12 citizens in the Charlie Hebdo massacre, to the shooting death of a female police officer, and finally the dual hostage standoffs that ended with the deaths of 3 of the perpetrators (the female terrorist’s location is thought to be Iraq or Syria) and 4 Jewish hostages at the market, Paris is unified.
A confirmed 1.5 million people filled the streets of Paris, including in the Place de la République, showing that Paris, France, and free people everywhere will not cower to intolerance. I spoke to a Frenchwoman named Julie (who wished for her full name to remain anonymous), and she said that the, “French people are united and standing up against any form of terrorism.”
The Charlie Hebdo attack, Julie told me, first put France into a state of “shock, then fear,” but now, “are united.”
The French perspective on the magazine is interesting. Julie said that, “Charlie Hebdo was not a ‘popular’ newspaper and by popular I mean not many people bought it (I think they were having money problems) but it was very controversial. Either you liked it or hated it.”
Charlie Hebdo was a target by the terrorists because of its cartoons. Julie did note, very importantly, that she “thinks that even though some people didn’t agree with their editorial line, it is a symbol of freedom of speech. So in my opinion, Charlie Hebdo didn’t have a huge impact but its attack did.”
Many of our leaders say that security measures against these types of attacks need to be expanded, and I agree in some ways with that, but the issue is much bigger than that.
First, the brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre were susceptible to radical ideology because of disenfranchisement in France. The shrinking opportunity for people to get out of poverty is causing this kind of violence and hate to become attractive. In France, in Europe. All over the world, including America. Sometimes, attacks such as these are done to ‘leave a mark’ because other, real, ways of leaving a legacy are not possible to people stuck in poverty with no way out.
The other thing we can do is to improve education and incorporating tolerance and an understanding of other cultures into that curriculum. I am deeply opposed to standardized tests because they force schools to focus on simply facts without any cultural understanding, language, and lessons in tolerance. One of my favorite quotes is from Nelson Mandela, which fits perfectly in this discussion:
Teaching children to have tolerance and compassion for all people through the education system, paired with reducing poverty and restoring opportunity, are moderate approaches we can take to prevent hate from causing violence.
From Caesar, to the Hundred Years’ War, to the Nazi Occupation, and now to this week, Paris has and always will endure through great challenges and threats to her. Paris and New York are the great free cities of the world, and because of that are shining beacons of light in the darkness of hate and intolerance.
Liberté, égalité, fraternité.
Nous Sommes Francais.
Vivé la France.
May the light of freedom always triumph over the darkness of intolerance.