Copyright © Françoise Herrmann
G47 + 2 million people answered French President François Holland’s call to march in Paris on Jan 11, 2015 for a huge demonstration against racism and antisemiticsm, and to uphold the values of democracy, pluralism and freedom. 47 heads of states, and 87 international delegations were bused to the front of the procession, which slowly unfolded from Place de la République to Place de la Nation, in the center of Paris. Among the heads of State, the leaders of Israel and Palestine, Prime Ministers Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas and, the President of Mali Ibrahim Boubecar Keita and a total of 8 African heads of State; heads of State from Europe, including Prime Minister Angela Merkel from Germany, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi from Italy, Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt from Denmark, Prime Minister David Cameron from Great Britain; The King of Jordan, former French Prime ministers and former French President Nicholas Sarkozy, and other European dignitaries.
According to French TV5 commentators, no comparable event mobilized so many people in France since the end of World War II -- not even victory of the World Cup in 1998 that brought an euphoric crowd of 1.5 million people to the Champs Élysées. And no comparable event ever brought together so many contrasts: some of the most powerful political figures of the world, from all sides of an often tense political spectrum, walking arm in arm, in honor of the most irreverent and slain political cartoonists and columnists of France, side by side, in the middle of the street, with the families of all 17 people who fell during the massacre and concurrent hostage situations; representatives of all the major religions (Islamic, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Budhist…) and of all the powerful Trade Unions; and in unprecedented numbers (2 million in Paris and another 2 million elsewhere in France), the people of France, cheering the police authorities they so often rebuke, in an unusual and deeply felt appreciation for the heroic work that was accomplished in trying to protect hostages during the past days of bloodshed.
In an extraordinary show of motivational displacement and act of caring (Noddings, 1984), the banners and posters of this march expressed solidarity with the victims of violence, and belonging to a collective humanity. The posters held during the walk overwhelmingly read: “I am Charlie”. But in many instances they also read on the same poster: “I am Charlie, I am a cop and I am Jewish” in reference the full palette of victims. Similarly, the posters read elsewhere: “I am Muslim”, “I am Ahmed” or “I am French, I am American, I am the Republic”. The City of Paris bulletin boards flashed: “I am Jewish, I am Muslin, I am Atheist, I am Christian, I am French, I am a citizen of the World, I am Charlie”.
Beyond politics for whom this march was a powerful symbol of national and international unity; beyond religion for whom this march was a powerful symbol of joyful communion; and completion in the rallying values of the French Republic upholding fraternity, equality and freedom (freedom of expression in particular), this was probably the first march against Hate, where everyone (present) was symbolically expressing access to consciousness of a shared and universal humanity, in deep awareness of one's self and care for an other. “I am Charlie” held by man, woman and child, meaning: I care, I feel for you. I could be you. All of this is also happening to me. “I am muslin, I am Jewish and I am Atheist” meaning: I have accessed a universal level of consciousness and feeling for (or care) that transcends our social and cultural differences. We can live together as one caring (dual, I and thou) humanity and embrace all our differences.
In further feeling for (or care), and enlightened awareness of the collective forces at stake, the buzz word of the demonstration was also about avoiding “amalgamization”, or (con)fusing everyone, and toggling into an emotional flip side or degradation of consciousness, a core of hate, where an undifferentiated object, whole groups (Jews, Blacks, Muslims, Women…etc) become the target of collective violence, including individuals in isolation when they are perceived indiscriminately as part of the targeted group.
On Jan. 11, 2015, the G47 heads of state claimed that Paris was the capital of the world! Cartoonists sketched the slain humorists standing on a cloud in heaven, watching the march from above, with the caption: “We got them! We converted them all!”
Now, what’s next? What about tomorrow? An amazing momentum was created on Jan. 11, 2015. What's going to change?
First, an important message for terrorism was delivered on Jan 11, 2015. It was a very clear message, pronounced by 4 million people, defying terrorism, saying NO! This is probably not enough for diverting the hundreds of youths who are seduced and manipulated by the ideology of fundamentalism and extremism, and too late for convincing the hardcore Jihadhists otherwise. But at least, on Jan 11, 2015, there was no ambiguity in the message conveyed. And that was a beginning – just in case anyone is still waffling.
The sad events of the week of Jan 7, 2015, and the extraordinary show of solidarity that was invoked in the aftermath, coincided with the publication of Soumission (from the same Arabic root as “Islam” and “muslim” meaning having surrended to “God”), a book by Michel Houellebecq, one of France’s best-selling authors. Soumission tells the political fiction of France under an Islamic party rule in the year 2022, after an election where both the right and the left political forces colluded in handing power to Islamic rule. The subliminal message in fictional terms is surely a warning, optionally a wake-up call…
In any event, in real life, submission and indifference lost their fictionally perceived grip on France. In light of the barbaric events that occurred recently in Paris, and the momentum they created in mobilizing 4 million people, including 47 heads of state and 87 international delegations, the veil was lifted (no pun intended), albeit for just one afternoon. Clearly, an important cross-section of France rose to the occasion, in a spectacular demonstration of civil action and care.
So, indeed, perhaps that tomorrow will bring change, filled with the energy and power of the moments of Jan 11 2015; change coming from that part of the human consciousness that motivated such an unprecedented show of solidarity, and unity in the face of terrorism. According to the President of the European parliament, Martin Schulze, interviewed live on TV5 after the event, these are for example changes in education and efforts to integrate marginal populations, rather than changes in an already coherent penal system and a return of the death penalty…
On the education front, the call on all sides of the classroom stage was for more dialogue, whether the call came from the philosopher and academic Raphaël Enthowen, the activist Daniel Cohn-Bendit or the French singer-rapper and film-maker Abl al Malik. For education, the call was for the initiation of conversation, designed to really explain and impart meaning to the differences and nuances between items such as, for example: love and hate, madness and sanity (Lurhmann, 2014), terrorism and sabotage (Potter, 2011), war and terrorism, law and taking the law in your own hands, damage and collateral damage, action and violence, retaliation and vengeance, religion and fundamentalism, the Coran and interpretations of the Coran, plausibility and reality, democracy and pluralism, racism, sexism, sectarism, dogmatism etc… all of which waltzes around without embodied meaning, and clearly gets very confused, under conditions of hardship (Zimbardo, 2007), economic inequalities and frustrated efforts to build dreams.
“I am Charlie” -- and the publication on Jan 14, 2015 of this week’s issue No. 1178 of Charlie Hebdo -- are courageous acts of defiance in the face of terror (courage has same root as the verb "to care") as they ultimately mean -- despite the bloodshed and bullets that killed 17 people, despite the hate, and what the terrorists sought to inflict and destroy -- (I care) Charlie is still alive. Indeed, Charlie is now 4 million or more people stronger. Long live Charlie!
Cohn-Bendit, D & G. Verhifstadt (2013) Debout l'Europe: Manifeste pour une révolution post-nationale en Europe. Paris, France: Editions Actes Sud
Enthowen, R. (2013) Matière première. Paris, France: Editions Gallimard
Houellebecq, M. (2015) Soumission. Paris, France: Editions Flammarion
Lurhmann, T. M. (2014) When god talks back: Understanding the American evangelical relationship with god. New York, NY: Random House.
Malik, A. al (2014) Qu'Allah bénisse la France! Paris, France: Editions Albin Michel.
Noddings, N. (1984) Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Potter, W. (2011) Green is the new Red: A insider’s account of a social movement under siege. San Francisco, CA: City Lights books
TV5 – Journal Télévisé de 20h du dimanche 11 janvier 2015 présenté par Laurent Delahousse.
Zimbardo, P. (2007) The Lucifer effect: Understanding how good people turn evil. New York, NY: Random House.