A College Church MK Living in France Reflects on the Charlie Hebdo Tragedy

Shock was the first emotion that everyone felt, I believe. In the first moments of hearing the news, most could not believe what was really happening or how this could have happened.

In my high school this instantly became the main topic of conversation, debate and anxiety. The fear of further attacks, the tension between different opinions and viewpoints and the buzz of exciting news was everywhere you turned for the past several days. Mobile phones were being consulted regularly for any updates and the news was played everywhere. Lockdowns were happening to some of our friends' schools and everyone had things to say about the current situation.

The whole nation had a day of mourning and every school in the country observed a minute of silence. This situation brought together a normally individualistic nation as one. The overwhelming solidarity impressed everyone.

In the main hall of my school, a large blank poster was hung where we could write a note, attach a picture, a poem, all to express our solidarity and feelings about this terrible act of violence.

"12 people dead, 66 million hurt" is one of the many sayings going around on social media. Although only a dozen people died, the whole population felt attacked. Not only because it was on their soil, but also because one of their rights had been violated. Freedom of speech had been brutally attacked. Everyone felt impacted.

Many different discussions arose in the following days. Some argued that the terrorist cruelly killed perfectly innocent people while others protested that the victims got what they deserved for being so rude and disrespectful toward all the Muslims. So although the French stood together in an act of outstanding solidarity after this devastating event, this has also created gaps, resentment and frustration among the Muslim population and the rest of France, and the Muslims and the extremists. The people who are not Muslim resent those who are because they feel that the crime was somehow their doing. Because of this the Muslims feel targeted because of what the terrorists did, and this leads to tension between these two groups of people in France.

This is something I've seen at my own school and around me. Several Muslims in my class have spoken in defense of the extremists, mentioning the way the magazine so greatly disrespected their religion in our “free” country. Others say that the freedom of speech gives them the right to mock, say and draw anything they like. But is this respecting other people's rights by breaking their religious laws? Even if you are not a member of their religion?  It was impossible to stay away from the typically taboo (in France) subject of religion during the ongoing conversations at my French public school.

Some Muslims refused to do the minute of silence and hence walked out of the room during the time designated for that purpose.

Compared to 9-11, this could be viewed as minor. The death toll was not enormous, the killers were caught within three days and life continued. But it has become a part of France's history, and it has changed people's viewpoint of the world in which they live in. No one lives in safety, and people are killed for what they think, even in a free country like France. 

Note: This family lives 30 minutes from where the attackers were finally killed--bringing this national tragedy even closer to home.