The theme of this past weekend was one of solidarity.
On Saturday, I went to the French Cultural Center of Boston where I attended a tribute to the journalists and cartoonists from Charlie Hebdo who were murdered on January 7. The tribute took the form of a slideshow featuring the work of the slain Charlie Hebdo cartoonists as well as cartoons that have been drawn in their honor in the days following the attack.
On Sunday, I made my way to Boston Common where I attended a rally sponsored by the Consulate General of France in Boston. The rally coincided with the one that took place in Paris which was attended by an estimated 1.5 million people featuring 50 heads of states (President Obama not among them).
I would estimate there were 500 people at the rally on the Common, a majority of them from Boston’s Francophone community. There were no speeches at the rally except for some brief remarks from Fabien Fieschi, the French Consul-General in Boston. Fieschi then led us in a moment of silence for all those who died at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Casher grocery store. At the conclusion of the moment of silence, the people around me spontaneously broke into a rendition of La Marseillaise.
A short time later, Fieschi led us a short distance to the Lafayette Plaque. I must admit I’ve probably walked past it thousands of time without giving it a second thought. But Marquis de Lafayette was a hero of both the American and French Revolutions. It was thus fitting that the rally should conclude at this spot where many people left their signs.
Obviously, most of the signs read “Je Suis Charlie,” but there were many others. They included “The International Society of Heresy: Thought is Free,” “Charlie Strong,” and, my personal favorite, “Charlie Akbar.” Some covered all the bases:
I am Charlie
I am a Jew
I am a Christian
I am a Muslim
I am a cop
While I am heartened to see a measure of respect for the two Paris police officers who lost their lives, I wish some of that respect would be directed to the two slain NYPD officers and to American police officers in general.
Some of the protesters carried pencils or pens while one “Je Suis Charlie” sign was affixed with a dozen or so pencils and pencil crayons. It is understandable why this kind of protest resonates. Everyone has handled a pencil, a pen and a pencil crayon. Everyone has tried to draw at one time or another. Some people draw better than others, but it is a common experience that is understood by everyone. Cartoons are also commonly understood by everyone. They are associated with childhood. Granted, the messages in political cartoons might not be easily understood by children. Nevertheless, a certain chord of humanity is struck when people whose profession is to convey visual images are harmed or threatened with harm. Similar sentiments were aroused in America and all over the West during the Danish cartoon controversy nearly a decade ago.
As for me, upon grabbing my “Je Suis Charlie” sign, I took out my pen and wrote on the back “Je Suis Juif.” Phyllis Chesler launched #Je Suis Juif on January 9th in response to a colleague who refused to use the “Je Suis Charlie” hashtag because no one had launched a Twitter movement when Islamic terrorists murder Jewish civilians, be they in Israel, France, or anywhere else. Chesler writes:
In the last fourteen years, non-Israeli Jews, French Jews, have been mocked, followed, literally tortured, stabbed, raped, robbed, shot down, stoned, and blown up. And today, they are being held hostage in a Kosher supermarket in France.
Today, I am a Jew, “#Je Suis Juif.”
Well, the four killed at the Hyper Casher grocery store were Jewish. At the request of the families, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has seen to it that they will be buried in Israel.
I was heartened to see I wasn’t the only one carrying a “Je Suis Juif” sign at the rally. But given that these Islamic terrorists targeted a Jewish business every bit as deliberately as the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, it somehow seems insufficient by comparison. Of course, I do not begrudge the “Je Suis Charlie” signs. I am pleased to see they have caught on. But surely there is room enough in the public space for both sentiments.
I harbor no illusions that this weekend of solidarity will change our present state of affairs any time soon. It is difficult for the United States to be a beacon to the world when the Obama administration doesn’t see fit to send anyone to the Paris demonstration. What was so important that Eric Holder couldn’t stay in Paris one more day? If the Obama Administration insists on behaving in this manner we could be seen by the world as a nation of cowards.
Our resolve will continually be contested. When the next Islamic terrorist attack occurs, there’s a good chance the Obama administration and other world leaders will say the attacks have nothing to do with Islam. When the next Islamic terrorist attack occurs, it might not easily lend itself to a meme like “Je Suis Charlie” and as a result there might not be another global demonstration attended by millions. When the next Islamic terrorist attack occurs, people might be more circumspect in what they say, do and write for fear their words and actions might offend Muslims and result in more violence.
This weekend might have been one of solidarity. But what about next weekend?