I am Charlie (and so are you)

Jeremy Ashton

PARIS— In a Parisian square, 15,000 voices become one, filling the darkening sky with cries for liberty and justice. This was what night held in the aftermath of a terrible day for Paris and the rest of the world, after an egregious attack on free speech and freedom of the press.

On Monday, Jan. 7, gunmen attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newsmagazine. The event, officially classified as a terror attack, was allegedly in retaliation for the publication of cartoons that negatively depicted the Muslim prophet Mohammed.

The paper regularly uses a signature blend of wit, cartoons and a healthy dose of sarcasm to poke fun at all kinds of religious and political figures. This trademark style doesn’t shy away from sensitive topics or hot-button issues, which has previously led to trouble (including a fire-bombed office in 2011). However, this recent attack is by far the humorous newsmagazine’s mostly deadly incident, with 12 confirmed victims, including editor Stephanie Charbonnier, economist Benard Maris, several cartoonists and a police guard.

As word of the afternoon attack spread, #jesuischarlie‬ (#IamCharlie) quickly began trending, attracting the attention of Parisians and others around the world.

Dominic Gerber, a St. John’s sophomore, first heard of the vigil taking place at the Place de la République Square on Twitter explained, “I knew this would be a great opportunity to experience the response of an international community.”

Despite it being only their third night in Paris, several students, myself included, decided to join those gathered in support of free speech and to honor those lost.

“In our lives as Americans, we’ve never had to think twice about our freedom of speech. Although I am a little nervous, I feel like standing for those unfairly killed was the right thing to do, both as an American and a global citizen,” said Johanna Mendez, a sophomore student and Ozanam Scholar residing on the Paris campus.

When we arrived, groups of young people were already leading chants, having climbed up the large monument in the center of the square and turned it into a massive protest sign. Despite the young ages of these leaders, there were clearly multiple generations of Parisians shouting “Liberté d’Expression, Liberté d’Expression,” and “Je Suis Charlie,” as projections played across the marble faces of the third republic’s monument.  This atmosphere was infectious, as we turned from watching to then joining the crowd, with a couple St. John’s students even joining the leaders on the massive statue.

In the middle of the night, this electric atmosphere suddenly subsided into a moment of silence, leaving thousands standing together with no sound, only fists and pens held up in the air. This incredibly moving moment, giving respect to the victims, was followed by a round of riotous applause as from the crowd we heard shouts of “Vive la France. Vive la France.”

Indeed.


Sophomore Jeremy Ashton is currently studying abroad at the St. John’s Paris and Rome campuses. He was present in Paris at the time of the Charlie Hebdo attack and the ensuing rallies.