Home » Opinion » Opinion: ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ after the ‘French 9/11’

Opinion: ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ after the ‘French 9/11’

The front page of ‘Le Monde’ on Jan. 9 Credit: Courtesy of ‘Le Monde’ on Twitter

The front page of ‘Le Monde’ on Jan. 9
Credit: Courtesy of ‘Le Monde’ on Twitter

On its front page Jan. 9, France’s most prominent paper, “Le Monde,” mourned the most horrific terrorist attacks in France since the 1960s, calling it “the French 9/11” in white letters on dark background with a picture of a women holding a “Je Suis Charlie” sign.

An editorial cartoon commemorating “Charlie Hebdo” by the paper’s most famous cartoonist, Plantu, is printed bottom left; the editorial “Free, Upright, Together” is a captivating cry for press freedom and a sad but captivating tribute to the dead.

Two men armed with assault rifles stormed the editorial offices of “Charlie Hebdo,” a French satirical magazine, at 11:30 a.m Jan. 7. Twelve people died, and several others were wounded.

National, European and international messages of solidarity poured in, condemning the senseless killings. It soon became clear that this shameful and barbarian act was perpetrated by radical Islamists as retaliation over the publication of cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed.

“We killed ‘Charlie Hebdo,’” the attackers shouted as they ran out of the building and into a car, executing another policeman on the street. The sequence was caught on video.

Though, in France, the understanding is that those “crazy men,” as President François Hollande called them, did not kill Charlie Hebdo; they made the dead martyrs for freedom of expression. Thousands took to the streets expressing their solidarity on the following days.

More than a million people marched in Paris on Sunday, joined by 40 world leaders and foreign representatives. The attackers did not kill “Charlie Hebdo,” but gave life to a symbol of freedom and national unity.

Journalists around the world expressed their solidarity as well, and major French media companies offered immediate support. On Friday, an editorial meeting of “the survivors,” as they call themselves, was held in the offices of the daily “Libération,” which had made its infrastructure available when “Charlie” was firebombed in 2011.

Indeed, the staff of “Charlie” knew it was a target. Al Qaida had put “Charlie” editor Stephane Charbonnier on a death list years ago. Police closely watched the editorial offices in Paris, and some of its editors and cartoonists had police escorts.

The attack on “Charlie Hebdo” struck France in the very heart of its national values of “liberé, égalité, fraternité” – liberty, equality and brotherhood. Though in recent months and years, a lack of “égalité” produced diminishing “fraternité,” especially against Arabs and Muslims.

The far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen came first during last year’s European elections. The Jan. 7 attacks can further strengthen anti-immigration ideas. In the nights following the attacks in Paris, several Muslim buildings were attacked with guns and grenades. Nobody was hurt.

Charlie Hebdo 'Survivors Issue' Goes On Sale

Long lines form at newsstands in France for the latest edition of satirical magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo.’ Credit: Courtesy of TNS

The attack on “Charlie Hebdo” was an attack not only on France and a magazine, it was an attack on press freedom and the freedom of expression. “Charlie” not only mocked Islam, but religions in general. It took strong positions against racism and fundamentalism.

The divide between freedom of expression and not harming religious or personal feelings is very thin. Nearly no American paper published the controversial cartoons mocking prophet Mohammed. They cannot be blamed, as each media outlet has the right to pursue its own editorial policy.

The line between respect and self-censorship is very thin, too.

The media weren’t required to publish those controversial cartoons, but “Charlie Hebdo” had the right to do so and should be able to in the future. By killing six of its most prominent cartoonists, the terrorists did not kill “Charlie Hebdo” but created an unprecedented national movement for the freedom of expression.

Wednesday’s “Charlie Hebdo” front page carried the words “everything is forgiven” together with a cartoon of prophet Mohammed holding a sign reading “Je Suis Charlie”. They will print 3 million copies, instead of the usual 60,000. This figure has grown from the originally announced 1 million copies.

France’s “liberté” seems to have survived the senseless killing, for now. Let’s hope and work together to ensure “égalité” and “fraternité” survive, too. The French should not give themselves up to fear and hatred; instead, they should learn from the tragedy.

They should learn that, once and for all, today’s threats come from within; that immigration is a strong and powerful part of the French society; that terrorists do not act in the name of Muslims; and that “égalité” and “fraternité,” in order to facilitate integration and social peace, should not be restricted to citizenship.

“Je Suis Charlie” should remain a slogan for humanism, freedom and solidarity, not a shameful excuse for hatred and division.


  1. I agree. And while we’re at it we need to stop the hatred and xenophobia that has run rampant in America for way too long. Let’s also stop this bullying arrogance of this “freedom fries” crap like we did around 10 years ago. If France doesn’t want to follow along the USA into a wasteful unnecessary war against a tinhorn who had ZERO to do with 9/11 then they proved to be smarter than us. The fact that it took nearly 10 years to punish bin Laden shouts several encyclopedias. I hope the French keep their sences thru all this and America needs to do the same as well. Terrorism is a disease that can hit anywhere. Religion is good but fundamentalism/fanaticism of anything is always extreme and destructive.

  2. There are fanatics in every religion. The attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was condemned by political and religious leaders from around the globe including Pope Francis. People in Paris and elsewhere took to the streets chanting “liberte, egalite, fraternite” the motto of the French Revolution. Freedom of expression at all cost, they cried. The magazine with just a circulation of 60,000 copies was publishing caricatures of Prophet Mohammed which Islam considered an act of blasphemy. Even after the attack the magazine continued such cartoons and increased its circulation to 5 million. The Pope on air from Colombo to Manila yesterday told a media person that freedom has its limits. He raised his fist at his assistant and said if he cursed his mother he will give him a punch and that is natural. He added that religions had to be treated with respect, so that people’s faiths were not insulted. The remarks came as coffins painted with cartoons for 4 people killed in the attack by militant Islamists were being taken for burial in Paris.

  3. Bringing other religions down to the level of Islam is one of the most popular strategies of Muslim apologists when confronted with the spectacle of Islamic violence. Remember Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber? How about Anders Breivik, the Norwegian killer? Why pick on Islam if other religions have the same problems?

    The Truth:

    Because they don’t.

    Regardless of what his birth certificate may or may not have said, Timothy McVeigh was not a religious man (in fact, he stated explicitly that he was agnostic and that “science” was his religion). At no time did he credit his deeds to religion, quote Bible verses, or claim that he killed for Jesus. His motives are very well documented through interviews and research. God is never mentioned.

    The so-called “members of other faiths” alluded to by Muslims are nearly always just nominal members who have no active involvement. They are neither inspired by, nor do they credit religion as Muslim terrorists do – and this is what makes it a very different matter.

    Islam is associated with Islamic terrorism because that is the association that the terrorists themselves choose to make.

    Muslims who compare crime committed by people who happen to be nominal members of other religions to religious terror committed explicitly in the name of Islam are comparing apples to oranges.

    Yes, some of the abortion clinic bombers were religious (as Muslims enjoy pointing out), but consider the scope of the problem. There have been six deadly attacks over a 36 year period in the U.S. Eight people died. This is an average of one death every 4.5 years.

    By contrast, Islamic terrorists staged nearly ten thousand deadly attacks in just the six years following September 11th, 2001. If one goes back to 1971, when Muslim armies in Bangladesh began the mass slaughter of Hindus, through the years of Jihad in the Sudan, Kashmir and Algeria, and the present-day Sunni-Shia violence in Iraq, the number of innocents killed in the name of Islam probably exceeds five million over this same period.

    Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 innocents in a lone rampage on July 22nd, 2011, was originally misidentified as a “Christian fundamentalist” by the police. In fact, the killings were later determined to be politically motivated. He also left behind a detailed 1500 page manifesto in which he stated that he is not religious, does not know if God exists, and prefers a secular state to a theocracy. Needless to say, he does not quote any Bible verses in support of his killing spree, nor did he shout “praise the Lord” as he picked people off.

    In the last ten years, there have been perhaps a dozen or so religiously-inspired killings by people of all other faiths combined. No other religion produces the killing sprees that Islam does nearly every day of the year. Neither do they have verses in their holy texts that arguably support it. Nor do they have large groups across the globe dedicated to the mass murder of people who worship a different god, as the broader community of believers struggles with ambivalence and tolerance for a radical clergy that supports the terror.

    Muslims may like to pretend that other religions are just as subject to “misinterpretation” as is their “perfect” one, but the reality speaks of something far worse.

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