Its been a dramatic few weeks. First, I learned from a friend that there was a dramatic tram accident just three hours before I left Dijon to travel home on the 19th of December. Two days after arriving chez moi, I learn that there has been a car attack injuring 11 people right in the centre of Dijon where I am almost every day. This was following a knife attack on police officers just hours before in Joue-Les-Tours. With the culmination of all these events, I started to think about violence and peoples’ reactions to it.
What has surprised me most, however, has been the reactions of people. On Wednesday evening I was sat eating in a restaurant in Dijon city centre with my friend and, as we sat in peace tucking into our steaks, 5000 people were gathered in the square just metres away from us, uniting in solidarity against this tragic act of violence and showing their support. This is magnificent, and I am in awe at how France and its citizens are taking a stand. A day after just missing being part of the rally, I went to my friends residence for dinner. Outside her building was an electronic plaque which read ‘Je suis Charlie’. Inside, I noticed three doors with pieces of paper on which was scrawled the same thing: ‘Je suis Charlie’. They are referring to Charlie Hebdo, the company which issues the satirical weekly newspaper that came under attack on January 7th, and ‘Je suis Charlie’ is a powerful way of saying ‘we are all Charlie, we all have the right to free speech and violence is never warranted’.
So far, so good. But what I fear will happen is that Je suis Charlie will just become one of those meaningless, cool things people say for weeks before it dies out as a trend. Like that time when cancer became cool and people posted no makeup selfies to show their support but some didn’t even donate. I’ve looked at Charlie Hebdo, and the publication itself was nothing special. It wasn’t revolutionary or brilliant writing. However, what is brilliant is the complete backlash against violence that has been happening world wide. But what is the good in holding up ‘Je suis Charlie’ signs as part of a cultural fad and putting the writers of the publication on a pedestal and painting an image of them as heroes? The issue is that it shouldn’t have to be the case that the victims are portrayed as saints in order for the outcry against violence to be justified. Violence is wrong- yes. The Charlie Hebdo staff were martyrs? No.
People have started using racist images of Middle Easterners as their profile pictures in order to show their support of free speech, and any Muslim who dares protest against this is just another terrorist backing nutcase. Throwing a bunch of people together and labelling them all terrorists because of an attack isn’t really promoting freedom, is it? Say Je suis Charlie to show you care about this terrible incident and death by violence, but defending racism through this slogan is just another act of violence.