I was sitting in my office on Wednesday morning when I learned with surprise, stupor and fear of the horror of the Charlie Hebdo attack. This moment struck me three times, because of three of my different social identites, as an Arab, as an artist and as a Frenchmen.
The Arab in me thinks: “Here we go again…”
September, 12, 2001. The day after the World Trade Center attacks – I was living back in Paris – I quickly discovered the humiliation of been judged and analyzed from head to toe by each and every person because of my physical appearance, which reads as Muslim. Though I am an agnostic, visually speaking, many take me to be a Muslim, as they do think that every man with North-African heritage who sports a beard is one… It would be great if people could make the distinction between extremists (men crazy about religion who kill in the name of archaic beliefs) and Muslims (people that have faith in a monotheistic religion). Muslims ARE NOT extremists. They are believers. Saying that “All Muslims are extremists” is just like saying that “every pair of high heels is going to hurt your feet”: This is a basic general view that means nothing. You have to take in consideration the passion that a person is puts into their actions and the social context.
The artist in me is promising: “I won’t give into fear”
After reacting as an Arab, I then reacted as an artist. For me, an artist who dies for their art is nearly the most beautiful expression of their success. Here emerges my obvious love for drama and theatrics. Moreover, as cheesy as it sounds, Charb’s affirmation resonated with me: “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees”. First tear of the day. It was 11:15 a.m.I then received some death threats. My favorite was: “I will follow you, fuck you up and chop your head off”. Included was a reworked Microsoft Paint photo of yours truly decapitated. This loser didn’t even know how to use Photoshop! Bless his heart… That’s why I’m no stranger to this tiny moment of cold sweat dripping down my neck, asking myself whether I should continue or not. Instinctively, my reaction was: “Fuck it! I will do even more and piss off all of you extremist bastards”. And today, these artists that are satire cartoonists, just like every person that expresses his/her vision of the world through art, says to extremists: “FUCK YOU! We’ll do our job anyway!”
The Frenchmen in me thinks: “Damn! We failed…”
Finally, after having been struck in two of my multiples social identities, the Frenchmen in me was sad; sad to know that these men, born in France, fell into radicalism in the heart of Paris; sad to know that so many families have lost their loved ones; sad to think that maybe France has missed the mark when it comes to ensuring the integration of the first generation of French-born immigrants. I am sad to know that my sister will be worried when she walks down the streets and that my brother will have to live his religion in secrecy. This is in fact the ultimate opposite of the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity that France was built on. I have no doubt that the French will stand up against this awful and disgusting act. Though the extremists wanted to hurt France, I think that they have in fact made it stronger. Funnily enough, a journal that was on the verge of closing down will now be reborn out of the ashes of this tragedy with more readers, more solidarity and more French pride than ever.
In a way, I have now lived through a second September, 11th, 2001.
It was on January, 7th, 2015.