Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Je Suis Charlie

             Early Sunday afternoon I started out for the rassemblement, the rally, in Bordeaux as part of mass demonstrations all over France for, well, unless you've been in a coma for the past week you'll know why. Unfortunately I never made it past the tram station. The Prime Minister here (not Hollande, who is the President) had appealed to every citizen of France (except Marine LePen) to join the rallys this weekend as a means of demonstrating that France wasn't going to be cowed by terrorists. As a result, traffic into the tram station park and ride was backed up halfway to the Medoc, mostly by people who probably never go near public transportation and so couldn't figure out how to work the gate into the parking lot. Many of these same folks were further stymied by the operation of the tramway's ticket dispenser so it was slow going from the beginning. The first tram that came by was already packed as full as any Uptown Manhattan subway at rush hour. As an American and a visiter here I wanted to be with them but it was looking like I might have to find another way to show my support. For the moment, this post is the best I can come up with.

            Ironically, the magazine these shitheads attacked, Charlie Hebdo, while quintessentially French, wasn't that big of a deal here in the sense that it didn't have, and never had, a particularly big following. Its circulation was around 30,000 (which is what I read somwhere although the unimpeachable Wikipedia says it was 45,000) and catered mainly to the far left. (In France, the far left still represents the type of people here that it always has and the United States used to have, like the ones that set off a bomb in the Capitol during the Vietnam War. (All you have to do now in the States to be called Far Left is believe even poor people should be able to go to the doctor.) The only time most people ever paid any attention to Charlie Hebdo was when they pissed off somebody famous or the religious, which is their intent, more than usual - until last Wednesday.
            When the first reports of this started showing up on the web, I'm ashamed to admit that our reaction was, "Twelve's not so bad." As an American, I've lost track of the number of mass killings at home in just the past five years but I can come up with at least 3 right off the top of my head that equaled or bettered Wednesday's in Paris (Ft. Hood, Texas, November, 2009, [13] Aurora, Colorado, July, 2012 [12] and Newtown, Connecticut, December, 2012, [26]). But this is France and the impact is the same as 9/11 was to us. Let's hope the French reaction is better thought out than ours. 14 years on and Americans are more divided than at any time in our history except the Civil War and it's no coincidence that the roots of that division are centered in the old Confederacy. There are two Americas now, one intensely conservative, religious and intransigent, the other not. We're afraid of everybody and everything but mostly we're afraid of each other. And we hear talk about "real" Americans and "your" President - a far cry from the "We're all Americans" of September 12. Osama bin Laden succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. I digress.
            The marches on Sunday are demonstrating that, at least for the time being, the French are sticking together. The government pointedly did not invite Marine LePen, voice of the even-farther-right-than-Republican-if-you-can-believe-that National Front, to the marches but this probably makes no difference anyway. She'd been gaining ground by fanning the flames of anti-immigrant intolerance and lost no time on Wednesday scoring political points, but giving her some free publicity wasn't such a hot idea, either.
            When does this shit stop and how do you fight people of a faith based ideology so lacking in compassion that it thinks nothing of murdering twelve people for the heinous crime of "insulting the Prophet" and four more just for shopping at a kosher grocery. And then you read of the Boko Haram branch strapping explosives to a ten-year-old girl and sending her off to be blown to bits. Religious extremism is the curse of the 21st and it's not going away anytime soon. It's simply astonishing to me that, in the year 2015, the worldview of over half the planet is based on religious texts written thousands of years ago (The Koran is the newest at 1400, unless you count the Book of Mormon and Dianetics) by no one knows who, St. Paul and, in at least one case, someone possibly deranged.
            I might not have agreed with the politics of Charlie Hebdo, but you've got to admire their balls. Despite constant death threats and the firebombing of their offices, they backed down not one bit. The day after the killings, the cover of Marianne, another French weekly, carried a cartoon by one of the dead artists which, if you believe in the Almighty, constitutes a pretty good argument for a believer's not giving a shit what anyone says about His Prophet,
"Allah's big enough to defend Mohammed all by Himself - Get it?" (the headline, Keep Up The Fight, is the magazine's addition)
            And to show you how much they continue to back down, here's tomorrows first post-massacre cover:

            "All Is Forgiven"
            I sure hope France comes out of this unchanged. If I were them, I'd follow Charlie Hebdo's lead and say whatever it is that means, "Come and get us, mother-fuckers" in French then go right on being myself. In fact, I'm thinking of buying a beret, wearing it to the boulangerie for a baguette and washing down with a nice bottle of Pessac-Leognan while I chain smoke Gauloises in solidarity. After all, nous sommes tous Charlie.



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