Brief note: before publishing the below I tried to review it. It is not well written, there are typos, etc. But it is raw, and I would rather see it published as honest but flawed than cleaned up but literary.
It’s been several days now. I think about it, what it means, how it happened, and how to write about it. My first reaction was something like “Cabu… Merde c’est Cabu quand même.” (rudely translated to Cabu… Fuck it’s Cabu… Not anyone – Cabu is one of the illustrator who died, see below quote to understand this better)
My relationship with France is of love-hate. I love to hate my home country, but I love to love it, and – often – I hate to hate it. It’s complicated, but the simplest way to explain this holds in two sentences. (1) I hate to see how France has been doing in the last 10, 15, 20, 25 years ; the complexity of a country that allows corrupt politicians, that accepts heavy tax burden to support a failing system system, all the while maintaining a certain art de vivre it cannot afford. (2) I love to remember what France stand for, when people nag at the French work patterns, I am proud to reply that perhaps working like a donkey for a boss is not exactly what makes people happy, and the French put their lifestyle above their work, their freedom above their loyalty to a government or a company – it does not go well with economy, but it does not mean they are wrong.
It took me some time to realize what has happened. Perhaps, a friend of mine hit the right chord when she posted on Facebook last night:
I read posts from people who don’t understand why we talk so much about a group of irrespective French journalists. Let me explain. […] When I was a child, Cabu use to draw cartoons for kids on tv. He taught to all the kids of my generation the power of drawing and irony. […] In France, since the first novel published in french, everything deals with irony, irreverence, derision, provocative criticism (Rabelais, Voltaire, Moliere…). [The terrorists] didn’t attack a political instance but a piece of heart, [a] kind of “French spirit”. It’s a question of freedom of speech for you, for us it’s more than that.
(This is not a translation; slight edits in brackets are mine)
A core piece of the identity, ‘the heart’, of what makes France being France was removed, like a hair plucked away. If France was a human body, and imagine each cell being a French person, Charlie Hebdo was that in-grown hair (some would say an hemorrhoid…) that itches badly. A huge part of the body manages to ignore it, but that hair always find a way to remind itself to everyone. A society is a body of people, and a healthy body needs to find somewhere to itch from time to time. Have you ever seen an aseptic society? There are none, and there will never be one, because a sterilized body is too fragile to be alive for long, the smallest virus would kill it.
Our force, as mankind, is to hold together – we are social animals! – and to move forward towards things greater than our individualities, even further than the sum of our individualities. Fascism, fanaticism, racism, hatred are the virus of the human body, and so of the global human society.
Some say we have have the seeds of the good and the bad in us, and by understanding how to nurture which seeds, we can choose to grow the happy seeds and achieve great things. Happiness for the masses does not come from the blood of ‘others’, it comes from love, it comes from the heart, from the courage to say ‘I love you’ to a foreigner, because within that person, there are seeds to be be grown, those of love are to be cherished so they can blossom. By saying ‘I hate you’ other seeds would grow. The terrorists grew the seeds of hate: society allowed them to do it.
Old demons: that is the real target. The terrorists of the Charlie Hebdo had my age, if not for a geographical lottery, we could have seat next to each other in junior high. Where I grew up, many classmates came from immigrants background, many of them Muslims, born in France. It was a time with little friction, I do not recall any racial related incident. We were buddies, we played football. How did it go that wrong?
Old demons: the failure of the political classes and their electors to invest in the right place. A long time, one of us, in class, asked our History teacher a question: “Why do we need to study the history of World War 2? The war is over a long time ago, it’s cooler to learn about the Kings and knights and fortresses and stuff.” Somehow I always remembered the answer better than the question. Not the exact words, but it went something along these lines: “Because only by knowing what happened and why, we can make sure it never happens again.” The underlying argument was that if we know what went wrong in the past, if we are educated in the sense that racism leads to fanaticism, to nationalism and to fascism, then we can better spot it early and kill it in the egg.
Wrong targets: the last few days, pretty much everyone took some sort of blame from someone else. First in line the Muslim communities: mosques were attacked, a young Arabic teenager was beaten up after school, etc. Second are the politics. Never the politicians of the past, but the present ones. They are blamed for pretty much everything, some for instrumentalising the events to their advantages (the fascist Marie Le Pen in particular), some for not having foresee the events (the President in that case). Then the press is blamed: for being too free and not exercises restraint when danger is near (!!!) or for being too gentle with their itchy colleagues.
Wrong targets: it is inside we need to look. How did France fail to get those kids aware of the derives they were taking, aware the paths they chose was wrong? How does France continues to entertain the idea that immigration is wrong, that some want the death penalty to be reinstated? How do we find the fanatics among us? They are more silent, but equally dangerous. I think the events call for a strong remise en question of everyone.
The in-grown hair that was Charlie Hebdo was removed, they were killed, brutally and disgustingly, but we all know their spirit of freedom and irreverence will come back. Was it useful to use assault rifles to do so? Evidently no. The terrorists plucked the wrong hair: French society had, is and will continue to support its itchy parts, no matter what. If you don’t like it, tough luck – you do the nagging, we do the laughing, but please, get an education.