2015-01-22 / Opinion

Je Suis Charlie

To the Editor:

There has been an explosion heard around the world, not of gunfire, but of abject heartbreak and silent outrage. The French Parisians, pencils held high in one hand and signs reading “Je suis Charlie” in the other, silently crowd the sidewalks of Paris, letting us all see how heartbroken they are.

On Wednesday, Jan. 7, the Charlie Hebdo magazine’s employees were at a meeting headed by their chief editor, Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier. Charlie Hebdo is an irreverent, non-conformist, satirical weekly publication that prides itself on lampooning just about every institution in the interest of courageously seeking truth. Just last week, Charb quoted Emiliano Zapata in saying, “I’d prefer to die standing than live on my knees.”

Charlie Hebdo’s circulation is small, with about 60,000, mostly left-wing readers. Destroying them probably looked easy to a few extremists, who gunned down 12 of them as they assembled around their table, preparing cartoons. But journalists are not easy to silence. Instead, Charlie Hebdo has become a household name and will be printing 3,000,000 copies this week in 16 different languages. The extremist assault most likely will go down in history with the 9/11 massacre of 2001 in America. The physical carnage in Paris was not as vast as the 2,996 souls who died in the Sept. 11 attacks, but the psychological carnage was just as great and just as worldwide.

The French, proud descendants of the French Enlightenment, hold self-expression dear. Voltaire’s quote is famous there. “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Freedom of expression is at the very core of the hearts of the French.

For us, equally proud descendants of the Statue of Liberty, given to us as a gift from France, we have our own great history of democracy rooted in the Bill of Rights, Amendment I, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

We have not forgotten our own heroes of liberty, like Patrick Henry (“Give me liberty or give me death”) or Nathan Hale (“I regret that I have but one life to give for my country”). Don’t forget the great journalist Thomas Paine, who published his “Common Sense” when no one else would.

By trying to crush freedom of the press in France, the extremists have torn at America’s heart, too, and threatened the very backbone of democracy everywhere-the Fourth Estate.

To all my French friends on Aquidneck Island and all over the world, I want to say that we stood with you on the beaches of Normandy, and we stand with you now.

We are American. We are Charlie.

Patricia Anne Healey

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