I woke up to a blinking phone today. The New York Times was telling me there had been a shooting in Paris. In my sleepy state, I thought the alert said one person had been killed. I pressed my finger to the screen and the article appeared, saying at least twelve people have been killed in Paris. Ten have been wounded.
This news has broken my heart this morning. The attack took place in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper. The news from Charlie Hebdo is not always the most tasteful. For instance, a few years ago, the paper was criticized for publishing a satirical image of the Prophet Muhammad. Just this week, the cover once again satirized Islam. Charlie Hebdo is known for calling politicians, the police, and adherents to all religions into question. Islam is not the only one ever satirized. However,
at a time when the Front National has heightened the debate on immigration and many people are concerned about radical Islam in France, this attack is very frightening. The French President, Francois Hollande, has already said he believes this to be an Islamic terrorist attack.
What’s more, this attack comes on the heels of several others. The last time I was in France, over winter break, I visited my sisters and a friend in Nantes. I fell in love with the beautiful city and loved my weekend. Before I left, my sisters took me for mulled wine in the Place Royale, right beside my bus stop. One week later, someone drove a van into the very place we’d shared our mulled wine. Many people were wounded. A similar attack took place in Dijon.
Really, attacks like these are always frightening. However, as an American who has spent some time in France, I find it even more shocking. I’m not used to reading about shootings in France. Several shootings took place in the United States while I was there and I remember talking through them with my host parents and sisters. I’ve also talked with students about gun control and violence in the United States. But when in France, I usually put my guard down. I don’t worry when I go to movie theaters or churches. I don’t think about exit routes in highly populated areas.
The attack at the Christmas market in Nantes a few weeks ago shook me. It reminded me that even in France–or maybe especially in France, right now–attacks can still happen. I am still vulnerable. Today’s attack in Paris is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy due to the loss of lives, but also due to the loss of peace of mind and the birth of fear in the hearts of French people.
As we mourn the losses at Charlie Hebdo, I am also reminded of the importance of protecting the freedom of the press. As this attack may have been an effort to silence the cartoonists and satirists at Charlie Hebdo, my heart cries out to French journalists at all newspapers. I beg them not to let themselves be silenced by fear.
Today, however, is not a day to reason. It’s a day to mourn. I’ll carry these huge losses with me and think especially of my friends and family who thought something like this could never happen in France. My heart is so with you.