Within minutes of one of the worst terrorist attacks in Paris, I skimmed a French newspaper while on layover at Charles de Gaulle Airport, en route to my home in Switzerland.
While I enjoyed the freedom to travel between borders, AK-47 toting terrorists gunned down Charlie Hebdo journalists at an editorial planning session in the heart of Paris.
While France mourned, democracies around the world chanted, “I am Charlie” in solidarity. I know from my own family that the French love satire and the freedom of expression. Charlie Hebdo, born out of the student protests in 1968s, reflects the French tradition of ‘esprit critique’ (critical spirit) and a place where journalists can speak their minds.
Since 2006 Charlie Hebdo received terrorist threats for having published caricatures of Prophet Mohammed. Stephen Charbonnier, the editor in chief, one of 12 victims of the attack, was under police protection. But bodyguards and officers stationed outside the door, also slaughtered, offered little protection against terrorism.
Charlie Hebdo poked fun at all, including the Pope and Jesus Christ, as well as political class leaders including extreme right wing Marine Le Pen and other prominent personalities. Though it often ruffled feathers, it also provoked thought and symbolized the right for freedom of expression.
Charbonnier said his job was not to defend freedom of speech. “But without freedom of speech we are dead. We can’t live in a country without freedom of speech. I prefer to die than live like a rat
As an American living abroad, I will never forget the impact of 9/11; now January 7/15 stains my soul. Like 9/11, the attack sent ripples of anxiety and outrage across national borders, racial divides and among the traditional French Catholic as well as the 5 million Muslims across the nation.
As the story unfolded live on national TV, the horror escalated. Less than 24 hours later, police were shot on the street in another attack. While the public froze, the government mobilized 90,000 police officers to search for the two terrorists who fled taking refuge in a printing company in a village near Charles deGaulle Airport. Meanwhile the other gunman encamped in a kosher grocery store at the Porte de Vincennes and killed several hostages. Nearby students cowered in lockdown, shoppers hid in garages, homeowners were confined, the peripherique (highway circling Paris) shut down, the nation held its breath.
I waited and watched as experts explain a new era of terrorism, a terror that reigns within. French citizens target their own country in an attempt to disrupt and paralyze society with fear.
President Holland attempted to calm his nervous nation with powerful speeches defending human rights. In spite of the Franco- American differences, our fundamental ideologies remain the same. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity — the bedrock of French values – are also the pillars upon which America was built.
“Each and every American stands with you today,” President Obama said as he offered support to our oldest ally. “The universal belief in freedom of expression is something that can’t be silenced because of senseless violence.”
As an American writer married to a French printer, intellectual freedom has been part of my family’s foundation. My children, born and raised in Paris in early years, were educated in Geneva as global, international citizens.
Over this past winter holiday, feeling discouraged, I contemplated stopping my blog and quitting writing. Yet with a heavy heart, as we embark on a new year, I am compelled to put my pen to paper.
Today I mourn for mankind, for the vulnerability in each of us against the faceless enemy of terrorism that threatens our existence. Like so many people, I want to do something, anything, to stop the madness. Helpless and hopeless I wring my hands and scrawl until my fingers bleed.
I must write.
Because I can.
And I will!