Sunday, January 18, 2015

Berlin ist Charlie

On 11 January, residents of Berlin gathered on Pariser Platz in front of the French Embassy to express their sorrow for the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks that occurred a few days earlier. The gathering was in solidarity with the people of Paris, who at the same time were on the streets of their city in the millions, along with the leaders of Europe. The atmosphere in Berlin was subdued and quiet, like a vigil. People were holding signs, flags, flowers, and pens and pencils. It was very cold, but thousands of people attended anyway. I was quite affected by the events of that week - as a cartoonist, of course, and as a human being - and I felt compelled to join my fellow Berliners. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the Paris police, and the Jewish market were horrifying. The inclusive, non-recriminatory, and dignified response by the people of Paris, and of Berlin, moved me almost to tears.

There is a vocal anti-Muslim movement in Europe and, notably, in Germany recently under the banner of a group known as Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West). I didn't witness any element of that group present at the French Embassy that day. I feel very strongly that Muslims are just as German, or French, or British, or American as anyone else. And I'm keenly aware of the suffering of Muslims in brutal terrorist attacks, like the killing of over 130 school children by the Taliban in Pakistan back in December, and the vicious massacre in Nigeria by Boko Haram that occurred around the same time as the Paris attacks - but received far less coverage and was not followed by millions-strong demonstrations of solidarity. Some have accused Charlie Hebdo of racism, and many Muslims are obviously offended by certain cartoons. I had never read Charlie Hebdo prior to the attacks, and it took some research to learn that the magazine is a left wing publication using parodies of right wing views to satirize religion, racism, and conservatism. Nevertheless, the slogan "Je suis Charlie" is not alone an adequate expression of my feelings about the attacks, since it excludes other victims, and probably causes feelings of enmity among Muslims who don't care about Charlie Hebdo's intentions.

Perhaps we ought to be clear that we are Charlie, we are Peshawar, we are Nigeria - we're all together. That was the message I saw coming from some people in Berlin, and certainly what I heard and saw from many people when I watched the live stream from Paris later that day. Let's hope that message is adopted by more people around the world.

An important reminder that people in Pakistan, and the broader Muslim world, are suffering too. Taliban extremists massacred 132 school children just weeks before the Paris attacks.

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