“Havoc wreaked, we stand together,” a text by Matthieu Longatte (Bonjour Tristesse)
I’d been in Cuba for 12 days, cut off from the world (the Internet is illegal here, except in luxury hotels) when I heard the news. Over the days the enjoyable feeling of elsewhere has, as so often when I travel, made me feel nostalgic for my country. Its food, its culture, its language, and even, I must admit, its people.
That morning the strident sound of a text message replaced the intrusive ringing of my holiday alarm: “attack on Charlie Hebdo, 12 dead.” Woken brutally, naked, like a fugitive caught by the police, I reacted strangely. I first thought of the social impact, of the heavy atmosphere that would hang over the coming months, the infernal spiral of violence this event could potentially spark.
And then while taking a lukewarm shower, sputtering feebly as so often in poorer countries, the realisation hit me. Blood had been shed, Charlie Hebdo was no more, people had died, crushed under the foot of inhumanity on a cold Parisian morning like any other, in an office where people were working, like many others.
Two Kalashnikovs against a few drawings. Families destroyed for a colouring book. A colouring book which sometimes went over the lines, which saw itself as artistic, biting, but above all peaceful. Drawings. And now all was red, flowing everywhere to absorb all other colours in its path and what I had thought were the misdemeanours of pen strokes.
I remember once I was in a preparatory class for my bar exam, and I kept interrupting the Human Rights professor while he was talking about freedom of speech, as I disagreed with his analysis. The professor had taken the example of Charlie Hebdo trial in 2012. Other than the fact I don’t like it when polemicists follow the crowd, I found that certain caricatures created an amalgamation which spread to all Muslims. This, in my view, constitutes an offence of publically insulting a person or group of people for their origins or their membership of a certain religion. The professor took it to be a clear attack on extremism, and too great at attempt on freedom of expression by those who would have seen them sentenced. I kept insisting. The vein in my neck didn’t help to hide the fact I felt particularly affected by this issue, which I felt was necessary for justice and social peace. But he wouldn’t drop it, and the law was on his side.
And it is now, three years later, in the bloody drama of this inexplicably violent event, that the richness of my country has come to the fore.
In France, in our country, we can spend hours, even days discussing what is punishable by law. We can shout at each other, hate each other, stop talking to each other. But it only takes a second, a single second to realise that sentencing by blood is not, and will never be tolerated in France, not in our country. The law is there, and despite the unstable trust we grant it, we made our decision long ago: our laws are by far more worthy than the bestial law of man, history having taken away all its credibility. And despite the fumbling clumsiness of the French justice system, the fragile, passionate thoughts of individuals will never be able to shake it. Human beings’ intrinsic violence could never replace an established institution which has been built on people and equality for centuries.
With this in mind, I despise you, false Muslim, you who have the blasphemous pretention to think you can replace the hand of God with your own ignorant, lazy mark. You who learned the Koran through profane words instead of studying the ink of the prophet. You who drew blood instead of strengthening faith.
You, who think you will go to Paradise by defending a prophet who underwent persecution and attacks with his head held high, and his hand on his heart.
You who trample the divine gift of life.
You whose actions will mean my friends, my Muslim brothers with whom I grew up, acted on stage, studied Business, Law and Political Science, played football, shared laughter, parties and holidays – my life – will have to bear the heavy, aggressive stares of their neighbours and people in the street: half ignorant, half intolerant, half stupid.
Three halves seems to be the accurate definition of an idiot.
I despise you too, inflammatory, irresponsible media who, through your search for ratings and populism, created illusions to which you gave human form, with no consideration for truth, nuance or education.
I despise you, trivial French citizen, bored by the sadness of your existence, closed in on yourself, speaking to you screen more than your neighbour, who would hate a human being for their appearance or religion, denying their individuality, their personality, their humanity, your humanity.
But I am reassured when I see us all, shaken and brought low by this violence we are unable to accept, even though I see us gradually giving in to unemployment, instability and solitude. This salutary spontaneity, this shared barrier born of the rejection of blood and violence has now made us brothers and sisters.
And I love us; we have not sought out a scape goat other than that of human stupidity.
I love us all, Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Atheists, who all understand that peace, tolerance and our love for one another are indispensable to our survival.
And I love us because our reflex was to join together and shout out love for others and for freedom, like a family gathered around the coffin of a loved on.
I love us, and I would like us, as with a solid family, to be able to see each other elsewhere, not just at funerals.
To Frédéric Boisseau,
François Michel Saada,
We are sending you our love, to you and your loved ones. We will try, in your names, to honour the freedom of expression you have left us.
“The golden rule of conduct is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike and we shall always see Truth in fragment and from different points of vision.” Mahatma Gandhi