(French original version) The most important French mobilization since the Liberation, can Sunday’s Unity March be considered a «magnificent enthusiasm» of a people who lift up their head in the face of barbarism? I would like to believe it. But the extreme confusion which characterizes the «Republican» reading of the Charlie affair only deepens my sadness and anxiety. I could be wrong, but I feel that this apparent victory is a signature of our most certain defeat.
On Wednesday, 7th January, I learn about the Charlie killings, in central Paris. After the moment of stupor passed away, my mind associated on its own the caricatures of Muhammad to the attacks. Then I hear on the radio the four names of the caricaturists: Cabu, Wolinski, Charb, Tignous. Sadness and anger came over me, as I know these names, I see their drawings. The victims are not anonymous, but pleasant leading figures, well known by the general audience, two of whom since the 1960s.
Four names which change everything. Unfortunately, I am unable to recall the names of the anonymous victims taken hostage at Vincennes, even though only recently. The attack on Charlie-Hebdo is a sign of a change in the daunting strategy of jihadists. Despite the horror of the killings perpetuated by Mohammed Merah (7 dead in March 2012) or by Mehdi Nemmouche (4 dead in May 2014), these attacks had been lined up in a long list of terrorist crimes which did not provoke such strong an emotion as the one felt today.
Since the reactions triggered last summer by James Foley’s execution, Journalists have become intended targets of jihadists. In addition to the symbolic reading of attacks, very clear since September 11, a new option is superimposed, one which consists of deliberately targeting the Press to increase the impact of attacks. According to this very Mac-Luhanian grid where the Media is confused with the message, a natural reflex of the victims’ colleagues and friends being that of granting more importance to the event in the case of anonymous victims, media amplification becomes much higher when Journalists are affected.
The efficiency of this strategy has been confirmed on 11th January. If 4 million French took to the streets, it’s because the attack targeted the Press, a flagship institution of democracy, and because of the tremendous emotion aroused by the murder of these well-known and loved figures.
«I am Charlie» is a sign of a large majority of the general audience’s way of identifying themselves with the victims. In order to reach this level of empathy, a notorious social capital and endearment were needed, which could only be amassed by the caricaturists of a school-boyish, non-violent satire weekly.
The effects of this trap are catastrophic. Even as the French society slips gradually into an anomie, characteristic of the end of a system, exactly as the September 11 galvanized the American Nation, the «Voltaire’s country» no longer finds sense of a community, except in the face of terrorist adversity. As Daniel Schneidermann wrote, «She was shaking, France. We no longer knew very well why continue loving her. Since, the day before yesterday, it seems that we are beginning to re-comprehend what we have to defend».
We do not know what we have to do together, but we know against whom. Previous gathering of an equal magnitude was one held on 1st May 2002 against Jean-Marie Le Pen, which was also organized as a “Sacred Union” against an enemy of the Republic, bringing together more people than any other cause.
No coincidence that today we find the same image in the headlines, one of an exalted academic art, based on the allegory of institutions petrified in a motionless expression. Welded by fear, grief and anger, the community rallied against the enemy is deeply regressive. This community cradles itself in symbols to appear to rediscover a history in which it has long ceased to believe. The very next day after 11th January, we found that this Republican Mythography first meant a return to fundamentals: return of authority, triumph of repression, dithyrambics editorialists, even Sarkozy’s antics, not a single nail was spared to the coffin of intelligence.
But the worst is yet to come. For despite the call of the moderates to avoid amalgams, it is the entire Right, wedged on the starting-blocks of Islamophobia, which has rushed on to the boulevard of the “war of civilizations” and the denunciation of the enemy within. Useless to try to remember that jihadism represents Islam as much in the least as the National Front represents the entire France. The identitaire grid, the same to which Charlie’s cartoons yielded and which painted terrorism under the colors of religion, is just too simple to fail to convince fools.
Have the terrorists won? If one goes through the list compiled by Dominique Bouiller of the motives which drive radicalization and which link up to the ills of our society, we realize that nothing essential will change and that nothing can protect us from crimes which result from our own errors and confusions. Like the American society after the September 11, the horizon post-Charlie is dark. After the moment of communion, no concrete evidence allows, for the moment, to believe that the worst choices will not be the ones selected.
(English translation by Fatima Aziz)