These past few days have been unexpected in a lot of ways. No one expected to go through so many emotions – shock, sadness, disbelief, disgust, anger…What struck me the most was that instantly, people stood up together, regardless of religion, nationality, ethnicity, in an upsurge of solidarity that I never witnessed before.
We, everywhere in the world, all stood as one to protest against the actions of a minority trying to deprive us of our freedom of speech. All prejudices and differences seemed to have instantly disappeared in the aftermath of the attacks. People felt in their flesh that it was time to address problems that have been plaguing our country and society for decades now.
Suddenly, there was a feeling that there couldn’t be any democracy without freedom of speech. But there is no democracy for everyone where lies racism, xenophobia, intolerance or anti-Semitism either.
In the aftermath of the attacks, I had interesting conversations with fellow expats – French nationals and others. French people were naturally shocked. But what struck me was the reaction of others. It was sad, they felt sorry for me, but they didn’t seem to quite understand why this single event found such a resonance worldwide.
Indeed, in December, terrorists killed more than 150 children in a school in Pakistan. How many people were in the Western world’s streets by then? This is also a question we have to address. Beyond the symbolism of freedom of speech, which triggered indignation against the Paris attacks worldwide, we – us and our governments – need to rethink the way we approach global politics.
We need to value human beings no matter where they live. We need to take terrorists attacks seriously no matter where they strike, no matter who dies. We need to do more, to engage more means where possible, to fight obscurantism by development, education, culture. But we need to do so with a spirit of mutual respect and give up western paternalism towards other cultures.
So why should be we take action only now? Cynics worldwide warn that Je Suis Charlie will only be a bonfire. But because of what freedom of speech, and journalism, represent, we need to carry on what begun after the attacks. We need to nurture this determination to change things.
It doesn’t matter whether one agrees with Charlie’s editorial line or not – the fact is there is no democracy without freedom of speech. That is why people of France – and across the world – feel so strongly about that particular event. There is no liberty where there is no freedom of thought. However, now we must also learn to really live together, not as neighbours ignoring each other, but as a melting pot of cultures sharing the same values: liberty, equality, fraternity.
It is time now to realize that we need to change something inside our society. What is sad is that it took that terrible event to happen for people to be aware of it. Now that passiveness gave way to a feeling of belonging, a sense of common duty, it is time to rekindle our society and to really work on living together, side by side, regardless of beliefs or origins.
It is time to face what some tried to overlook: France is multifaceted: multiracial, multicultural. It is time to break the suburbs belts around big cities, and to engage in dialogue between rough neighbourhoods and bourgeois suburbs.
It is time to stop being afraid of someone who looks different. It is time to shake hands, to look the other in the eyes and embrace our differences. It is time to develop intercultural dialogue and reach out.
Today, in Berlin, before the Charlie gathering, I went to five different mosques. I overcame the fear I had to be rejected, insulted, or despised because I was different. I wanted to understand, as an atheist, my neighbours, and to stop just cohabiting with them. I was welcomed by every person I met. All condemned what happened in Paris.
Are we more divided now? More than ever, these terror attacks made me want to reach out people who think differently. Terrorists didn’t make me more fearful of others. We fear what we don’t know. We fear emptiness, doubt, differences, we fear what we can’t fathom. But together, we stand as one.
On a personal level, I would like to thank all of you who cared. Your kind messages, calls, words and hugs meant a lot, and I know every French person felt the same about such reactions.
Thanks to your words I felt sheltered, protected from these atrocities by the knowledge that beyond all this there is civilization, built on love, trust, and tolerance.
I left my country because its politics and people were making me sad. I couldn’t stand its apathy anymore. In the aftermath of these attacks, out of all this darkness, France stood up again into light, with the beautiful, unconditional and international support we’ve seen.
I hope with all my heart that we only saw the beginning of a civil awakening, an awareness that our democracy belongs to us and that we are all its agents.
Charlie, what happened was such a waste. But something good will come out of it, because today we showed the world we cared.