A Newcomer’s Perspective pt. 3: Charlie Hebdo

Posted on February 2, 2015


By: Audrey Petit-Trigg

The Text said “Darling it’s awful, terrorists attacked Charlie Hebdo. Charb, Cabu, Wolinski…All the cartoonists are dead!”

It was from one of my closest friends, living and working in Paris in a cultural institution. She had obviously sent it in the heat of the moment, most likely before the media would even start to make sense out of it. It had been sitting there, in my phone, for a few hours. Anything could have happened in between that moment and the minute I woke up, around eight am that morning.

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My eyes still sore and my judgement clouded from disrupted sleep, I read the text twice, the brightness of phone making me blink several times. Not sure what I was reading belonged to real life or to a remaining dream.

It was not a dream.

I opened my laptop, and found out about what was really happening, in the semi-darkness of my bedroom.

Articles, live news and the inevitable social media parade followed. A multiplicity of pieces and points of view, already rationalizing something I had a hard time understanding. I read, compulsively, almost frenetically. I became part of this parade, willingly, blindly even. There were corpses and there were murderers. There was a cry and there was a name. “I am Charlie”, I said along with many others in France and elsewhere. Ignoring the consequences to come.

And then, there was that Friday. The twelve first bodies not even cold and the core of a social revolt about to burn. An escalation started, without end and without aim and driven nevertheless by an urge to share any kind of perspective.

A million voices appeared, contradicting each other, resisting the power of blame, resisting the power of emotions and yet still preventing me from speaking. With these voices started a never ending fight between the personal and the political, the past and present, the unknown and what we thought we knew, the anger and the rationalization, a blind faith in hope and the disappointing reality of our world.

Unable to speak myself, I was barely able to understand those who talked, those who suddenly were coming out of the shadows after years of denial, the lucky ones who still had a voice out there and who were using their right to speak up, hour after hour.

For me, there were no thoughts. No words. Pure impotence.

For there were no words for me to write. There was shock and there was sadness. Sadness soon turning into perplexity. There was abuse and there was ignorance around us. Amongst us.

I remained silent for a long time. Was I still Charlie? I didn’t know. Was I still French? Probably.

Was I confused to be white and yet feeling so métisse? The product of an ancient colonisation and yet not colonised myself? Apolitical and yet somehow willing to participate in the parade of opinion-posting binge? Was I entitled to a single opinion at all? What was I exactly, if not the reflection of a contradiction? Could anything I say be something else than a dead-end discourse?

charlie hebdo
I never bought Charlie Hebdo myself. I did, though, come across such satirical journals from an early age, Hari Kiri, Le Canard Enchaîné, silly “daddy” humour from Almanach Vermot and many others. There was always an old copy hanging around, somewhere, in family or friends of my parent’s houses. My parents themselves did not really buy them on a regular basis and most of the time, it would end up buried in an old pile of newspapers.

I remember hiding in the bathroom to read these publications as a small child, and I remember my dad telling me “these are not readings for little girls” –fair enough (I also remember him saying that “this is not music for little girls” when I first asked him who Iggy Pop was, in the late 80s, an answer that only increased my curiosity for the “Lizard”).I was intrigued as a child and I was amused as a teenager. I used to read several cartoon albums from Wolinski and Cabu in the public libraries then, bemused by the crass, irritating humour. These drawings were part of my childhood memories, the background of a primal curiosity, later expanded in literature and the readings of what could be called “serious” publications. No more, no less.

That’s where I was standing, in the first weeks of January 2015: beyond the shock and the mourning, I was experiencing a great nostalgia for childhood, for a certain aspect of my homeland, Reunion Island, in the middle of the Indian Ocean: a former French colony, and since 1946 an administrative Département of France depending on the metropolitan government. An island where I was born from a Reunionese mother and a French Metropolitain father. A place I left when I was eighteen, with a thirst for change and exploration. With many questions on history and on identity, too. A place that I will never forget and that made me who I am, no matter how ambivalent I will always feel about its own history. No matter how naïve my childhood in that small piece of Eden made me, or maybe precisely because of this strange naïveté tainted with underlying doubt.
So could I be Charlie, all of a sudden? Could I embrace an entire ideology I had hardly ever been part of? Where did I stand knowing where I came from? What did this claim mean for me right now? Was it to excuse years of discriminative policies and racism in my own country? No. Saying “I am Charlie” did not mean “I am fundamentally right”,pointing fingers at the metaphorical enemies out there, those who were consequently “wrong”. It did not mean “I absolve myself and my peers for years of social discrimination”.

What it meant was a simple, apolitical, “I think about you deeply and I cry with you today”. Maybe it meant “I miss you” too. An “I miss you” transcending time, history and culture.
A statement of love and a step further into mourning, rather than a claim for total and blind national unity. It was personal mutter, more than a universal cry.

No candles, no rallies and no claims, but, nonetheless a gesture. Something to say: “I’m here for you anyway”. Like one would say to their family. Something to hold on to.

Something, rather than nothing.


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