By Nick Diamond
The Kouachi brothers, armed with AK-47 rifles, stormed the offices of a satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris on Jan. 7. They killed journalists, cartoonists and two police officers. The gunmen parted in a black Citroën after raiding the office’s lobby and second floor. Noisy-le-Roi, Albion’s sister city, is a 40-minute drive from the scene.
On Jan. 8, a third associate killed a police officer south of the city. He launched an attack against a kosher market, a target with anti-Semitic overtones, killing four and injuring five hostages the following day. All three gunmen died after two police raids on Jan. 9.
French President François Hollande, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the attacks, calling them “barbaric,” “cowardly” and “evil.” As many as 11,000 peaceful protestors gathered in Paris at the Place de la République near the Charlie Hebdo office. On Twitter, users trended #ParisShooting, #CharlieHebdo, #JeSuisCharlie and #JeSuisAhmed.
“There is a real sense of national unity, which is always good to see,” said Boushra Hami, former ‘14 native speaker teaching assistant at Albion College. She now resides in Paris and works as a high school English teacher.
Clémentine Boyer, ‘15 native speaker teaching assistant at Albion College, joined the peaceful protests in New York City on Jan. 8.
In 2011, a group firebombed the Charlie Hebdo offices after the magazine satirized and caricaturized the prophet Muhammad.
“I am obviously disgusted and distraught by what happened, but I don’t think I can say ‘je suis Charlie Hebdo’ either,” Hami said. “Mainly because it’s a publication that, in my opinion, was very extreme in their own way and greatly contributed to fuel racial tensions.”
Even though some condemn Charlie Hebdo’s content, there is an evident tradition of both satire and depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in the Islamic world. Ali Ali Farzat, a Syrian cartoonist, caricaturized Syrian President Bashar Asad in 2011. Christiane Gruber, an associate professor and director of graduate studies at the University of Michigan, affirms that Islamic law does not ban imagery of the Prophet.
Jennifer Perenchio, ‘13 native speaker teaching assistant at Albion College, witnessed 20 police cars chasing the gunmen near Charles de Gaulle airport. In response to a question about the attacker’s motives, she emphasized the tradition of satire in French journalism.
“I was shocked that something like that can happen in France and especially the meaning of that attack,” Perenchio said. “This attack wasn’t just to kill people. It was also against the first principle of our country: liberty of freedom. In France, we always have a culture of satirical media.”
Morgane Chatagner, ‘12 native speaker teaching assistant at Albion College, is researching her Master’s thesis on the use of that humor by minority groups in France.
“Even though they seem to have received training from al-Qaida, they were French citizens first,” Chatagner said. “So I feel like in a way it is bigger than a terrorist attack coming from the outside because France now has to be worried about terrorist organizations outside of France but also has to understand and fix what is going on with some of her citizens.”
Hami notes that gun violence and mass shootings do not occur in France like they do in the United States.
“I think the fact that there is actually no culture of gun violence in France is what made this event even more traumatic,” Hami said. “There are extremely strict restrictions on firearms here, so seeing men armed with war machines in [the streets of Paris] was very shocking to see.”
In France, the problem appears to be social, political and economic.
“Every time something like this happens, it’s always a pretext for ill-intentioned people to exploit the fear and further stigmatize the Muslim community,” Hami said. “This happened in a context when racism and Islamophobia has already been an increasing problem in France.”
After al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the shootings, a Yemeni member stated that the attacks avenged the Prophet Muhammad. International intelligence agencies continue to investigate who organized the attack and where.
Though these gunmen seemingly attacked Charlie Hebdo’s office because of its satirical content, religion might not be a motive behind the shootings. These men were not devout, observant Muslims.
Obviously jihadists do not align with secular Islamic belief. After French police detained him, Chérif Kouachi called himself an “occasional Muslim” at his court trial back in 2008 – he smoked marijuana and listened to rap. Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed ordered Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies on Amazon before heading to fight a “holy war” in Syria.
Any religious motive aside, Hami hopes French Muslims will not face further Islamophobia in a post-Charlie Hebdo Paris.
“I’m very much against the idea that the Muslim community should go out of their way to explain and prove that they are human beings just like anybody else,” Hami said. “French Muslims are first and foremost French citizens.”
Photos by Clémentine Boyer