Nous sommes Charlie: marches and mixed feelings

As I was unable to join any of the marches taking place in France yesterday, I watched the coverage of the Paris one on CNN. Of course it was very moving, emotional, impressive. But I was also left with mixed feelings.

From my previous two posts about what happened on Wednesday (see “Je suis Charlie“) and its aftermath (see “Nous sommes Charlie“), you can guess what my believes and values are. But are we truly “nous sommes charlie”, and if so: for how long?

When I wrote the previous posts, there were two siege-scenes still in progress (see “Nous sommes Charlie 2“). Shortly afterwards, both ended. Saturday, I read that Wednesday’s total number of victims had unfortunately increased.

Sunday, the morning news was that there had already been attacks on papers in Germany. The offices of a Belgian paper had been evacuated after threats.

A day after the marches in France, I’m sitting behind my laptop and a coffee. A table away from me, two adolescent muslim girls talk about events in Paris. “It leaves me stone cold”, one states, “I’m totally not interested in what happened in Paris.” The other one agrees. Ah well, Friday, a few reporters had already stated that in many Parisian Banlieus, there were no “Je suis Charlie” signs to be seen. Not all of us wish to be Charlie.

Sunday afternoon, I watched the coverage of the Paris march. It seemed world leaders had kind of “hijacked” events and the Parisian march.

Sure, I’m glad the majority of them bothered to be there and march in unity – if only for about a quarter of an hour. Or as a journalist put it: “just long enough so the press could take the necessary pictures”. It was perfectly stage-managed. It must also have been a boost for mr Hollande, who is one of the most unpopular French Presidents to date.

Nevertheless, it was impressive to see leaders like mr Netanyahu and mr Abbas both there. Though this morning, barely 24 hours later, French papers already stated President Hollande had not wanted mr Netanyahu to show up. So when was mr Abbas invited? Regardless, it is to be hoped that their fifteen minutes walk during this march of unity will be a first step on a long road towards solutions for problems in their region.

Marie LePen and co had not been welcome and remained unwelcome. They organised their own march. But it certainly showed that unity and “Nous sommes Charlie” is interpreted very flexibly by some.

For the Turkish Prime Minister was welcome. Despite a number of foreign journalists first having been manhandled and then arrested in his country – less than a week ago. They were later released, but countless police, members of the army, students, liberal people are still held in Turkish prisons. So like other people, I wonder how he managed to join a march which was also about freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, and a great many other values with which he and his government seem to have problems with.

Yes, I know there is at least one satirical magazine which is still allowed to publish in his country. It seemed it was once visited by members of Charlie Hebdo. This week, it published cartoons in favour of the Jihadist terrorists responsible for what happened in Paris. With freedom of press in Turkey being only possible for papers and magazines which tow the government’s line, I doubt publications of such cartoons are an expression of freedom of speech or press freedom. Nor was the Turkish Prime Minister the only representative of a foreign country where Western values and freedoms are truly upheld.

So watching these world leaders walk in front of the millions of ordinary people, left me with mixed feelings. Even though it was only for about fifteen minutes.

It was a relief, when the focus turned upon Charlie Hebdo’s remaining staff, mourning family members, partners, relatives, friends left behind after the horrors of the last few days. And the most moving and most impressive scenes and statements were not those of world leaders, but these and of the millions of ordinary people expressing support, how they felt, and what they stood for: “Nous sommes Charlie”.



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