Sunday, 11 January 2015

Marchons, Marchons

Today, for the first time in my French life (in fact, the first time in my whole life, but it's only really surprising for the French part), I participated in a manifestation. It was, of course, the Manifestation républicaine which took place following the shootings and hostage takings at the Charlie Hebdo offices, in Montrouge and at the Kosher supermarket at the Porte de Vincennes.

Following the first shootings on Wednesday morning, mixed with the shock and sadness, I felt great pride for my adopted country, as, with the killers still at large, people gathered at the Place de la République to honour the dead. Even the next evening when I went there myself, a crowd was still present, lighting candles or simply standing in silent reflection. It was so calm, dignified and largely spontaneous, and I couldn't imagine a more appropriate response to the tragedy.

I actually found the news of the hostage taking at the Porte de Vincennes more frightening than the first shooting. The first one was over before I heard about it, but this time, I learned what was happening while it was still going on. While other people had talked of the possibility of further attacks, I think I had convinced myself that a few failed copycats were the limit of what was likely to happen, and it was a shock when there was more.

And then, after the story came to its dramatic conclusion at 5pm on Friday, came the reactions. Understanding Frenchman and I had already discussed going to the march today, but, analysing the situation, I was no longer so sure that it was something I was comfortable doing. Je Suis Charlie, which at the beginning seemed a simple statement of solidarity with those who had lost their lives or their loved ones in the attack, as well as a defence of free speech, developed more nuance (at least in my own understanding). While I am one hundred percent in favour of the freedom of speech which allowed the newspaper to publish its satire, the racial stereotyping and level of offence go beyond what I personally am comfortable with, especially when aimed at an often-marginalised minority. Similarly, while I believe absolutely in the need for a secular state, I fear that this principle can be easily appropriated by atheists who use la laicité as a means to impose their own world-view on others, or at least to suppress the free expression of religious beliefs, and I didn't want to march in favour of that.

"Jihadis, stop caricaturing the prophet"

"I am Charlie; I am kosher"

"Peace; freedom; tolerance"
But this afternoon, my fears proved to be unfounded. As we made our way towards République, many of the boards proudly declared that their bearers were from many countries and of many religions. As well as je suis Charlie there were je suis Ahmed, je suis flic and je suis juif, often on the same banner. People wore turbans and kippas and carried rainbow flags. A friend who lives on the route of the march described how every time a group of people noticed the security patrols on the roof of her building, they burst into applause. As well as freedom of speech, people marched for peace and tolerance. In the end, I was totally comfortable with what the march represented, and proud to add my presence to the millions who gathered in defence of les valeurs de la République.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful message - to include all religons in the deomnstration, it really gets to the crux of it all x