Dear friends, colleagues, parents, former and future students,
Last week’s assaults on France’s foremost satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo as well as a neighborhood Jewish supermarket shook the French nation. Emotions ran high – first of anguish, then of pride and now of deep questioning as to the long term results of this terrorist attack against the freedom of speech which, to many minds, the French take to an extreme. We are aware that the way some of the foreign press has reported the series of related events of the past days has likely created a climate of fear, and parents of our current students may be concerned about the well-being of their children. In reassurance let me say that, although there will certainly be a before and after January 7th, in general, we have been watching events unfold on television as our lives continue “as normal” in terms of our daily routines. Judging from speeches and visible measures already taken, the national movement is toward vigilance, firmness, increased police controls, and solidarity. Short-term repercussions will certainly be more protection in public places and sensitive institutions representing French authority. In terms of the safety of American nationals, so far we have received no alerts or warnings from the American Consulate in Marseille.
Meanwhile, I am not alone in saying that the French response to the incidents of Wednesday have been impressive both logistically and rhetorically. Over the weekend, nearly four million people in France participated in nationwide demonstrations in defense of the rights and values of the French Republic. People of all origins, religions, and political parties brandished the slogan Je suis Charlie/ I am Charlie in honor of the victims of the attack and in defense of tolerance, liberty and freedom of speech. In Aix alone, 30,000 people marched in solidarity and in Marseille, nearly 100,000 came together in a show of unity. In word and action, much care was taken not to stigmatize the 5-6 million French Muslims, many of whom are second or third generation citizens. Seen as victims themselves of the terrorist acts inspired by Islamic fundamentalism, many French Muslims participated themselves in Sundays march. I was pleased to discover that half of the students had participated in the demonstration with their host families, what an exciting way to begin their experience abroad!
« Love is stronger than hatred, » L’amour plus fort que la haine, depicted in a past Charlie Hebdo cover following the 2011 arson attack on the newspaper headquarters, has been the dominant attitude of the demonstrations; and most doubt that the French will sacrifice their civil liberties to something like the Patriot Act. Time will tell.
This will certainly be a very special semester of investigation and questioning. Regardless of their ideological positions, students this semester will be fortunate to experience the way that France comes to terms with this terrorist attack on one of the most fundamental French values — freedom of speech extended to the right to blasphemy. The position can seem extreme and of high risk, as events have shown. As such, the contextualization of events and of last weekends’ demonstrations will certainly be part of our core course in French Cultural Patterns this semester.
AUCP full-year student, Kaitlin Curran from Colby College, experienced first-hand, on-site, the moment and the aftermath of 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing, and now the events in France. From this privileged cross-cultural position, she will share her insights and contrasts. Stay tuned for her blog post in the next days.
I leave you with this: Just yesterday, Charlie Hebdo released their first edition since the point blank slaying of six of their major and most loved journalists/cartoonists, and all three million copies distributed worldwide were sold out before dawn. The cover depicts again a cartoon-representation of the Prophet Mohammed in tears, holds a sign, Je suis Charlie. The headline reads “Tout est Pardonné”, All is Forgiven.
AUCP Founding Director