Je suis tout le monde

“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.”

Walt Whitman

So says much of France and people across the world this week with the declaration “Je Suis Charlie.”

“Je Suis Charlie” has become the uniting phrase that the French have clung to in the wake of the terrorist attacks that began in the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. These three words have been splashed across signs, newspapers, Twitter, and have even been taken up by George Clooney, who solemnly spoke them during the Golden Globes.

Why is this statement so powerful?

Just like the quote from Whitman, “Je Suis Charlie” expresses the idea that an attack on one person is felt by aje_suis_charlie_fist_and_pencilll. It is at once an expression of empathy and defiance, mourning those lost while also defending free speech and expressing patriotism. This past Sunday, over a million people marched together in Paris to show their unity and strength, while about 3.7 marched countrywide. “Je Suis Charlie” was the cry of the day.

However, some fear that the phrase is more divisive than it is unifying. After all, it is no secret that Charlie Hebdo was a magazine that offended many people. Does that justify the staff’s brutal murder?–of course not. But it does create complicated feelings for those who did not support the magazine before the shootings now that “Je Suis Charlie” has become the slogan associated with the terrorist acts.

In his op-ed, “I am not Charlie” David Brooks claims that the magazine would have never been tolerated in the U.S. because of its “hate speech.”  Indeed, Anthony Faiola, reporting for The Washington Post,  reveals that many French Muslims have felt ostracized by the phrase, “By putting the publication on a pedestal, they insist, the French are once again sidelining the Muslim community, feeding into a general sense of discrimination that, they argue, helped create the conditions for radicalization in the first place.”

It is a catch-22 for French Muslims–either embrace the “Je Suis Charlie” movement, despite the fact that the magazine regularly made fun of their religion, or remain silent and risk being seen as sympathetic towards the extremists.

Instead, many have found comfort in the story of Ahmed Merabet, the police officer who was murdered when responding to the initial scene at the magazine’s office. He was also a Muslim and died at the hands of those who “share” his religion. His death illustrates the vast differences between the majority of practicing Muslims, who are just regular citizens interacting positively with society, and the extremists at the fringe, who interpret Islam’s teachings in ways that justify murder and terrorist acts. “Je Suis Ahmed” is now heard alongside Charlie, telling the story of a Muslim who not only worked to defend his country but who also died trying to protect those who had insulted his own religion.

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

Whether you use #JeSuisCharlie” or #JeSuisAhmed, it remains clear that people everywhere must continue to come together against terrorism and push back against stereotyping or alienating others.

Even as I write this, reports of a foiled terrorist plot in Belgium and a cyber attack on more than 19,000 French websites rule the news outlets. And then there is the lack of media coverage of Boko Haram’s devastating attacks in Nigeria. Some reports claim that the terrorist group massacred over 2,000 people last week, though the Nigerian government has downplayed the event, reporting the death toll at 150. The difficulties that the media faces when covering the area are frustrating, but there is no excuse for how little this horrific event was covered.

Even last weekend, as the French were preparing to march in their solidarity against terrorism, a ten year old girl was used to deploy a suicide bomb, killing 19 in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri. Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of central Nigeria has asked those in the West to show his country solidarity as they did for France, “We need that spirit to be spread around.”

Though Baga is a not a place where we can march, the least we can do is give this tragedy the same attention as events that occur closer to home. Many people have tried to raise awareness of the attack with the hashtags #BagaTogether or #WeAreAllBaga.

We live in a global society and can no longer ignore atrocities that occur, even if we feel helpless. Even if we are separated by distance, nationality, or race.  Knowledge is empowerment–it is taking ownership of your role on this earth by engaging with current events.

Je suis tout le monde.

Though I initially cringed at the hashtag trend of raising awareness for causes or tragic events, I now see it as just another way to share our knowledge with others and show our solidarity via social media. Parade when you can but listen, observe, share, and remember when you cannot.


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