The last couple of weeks have seen such stunning highs and lows in the human experience – unimaginable tragedy in violence with the shootings in Paris. And then just days later, the unforgettable images of hundreds of thousands of people gathering in that same city to show their solidarity and support for those lost to the violence, and their unwavering belief in freedom – specifically freedom of speech.
The details are of course widely known at this point – on Jan. 7th, two masked gunmen forced their way into the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
They killed 12 people, including the editor Stéphane ‘Charb’ Charbonnier, seven other Charlie Hebdo employees, and two National Police officers, and wounded 11 others. Charlie Hebdo had attracted attention for its depictions of Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
On Jan. 11th, up to 2 million people, including more than 40 world leaders, met in Paris for a rally of national unity to honour the 17 victims.
In all, 3.7 million people joined demonstrations nationwide, in what officials called the largest public rally in France since World War II. The phrase ‘Je suis Charlie’ came to be a common worldwide sign of solidarity against the attacks.
The remaining staff of Charlie Hebdo announced that publication was to continue.
As mentioned, one of the most powerful images from the whole series of tragic circumstances was the hopeful image of so many gathering in Paris – and in cities and communities around the world – to show their support. It was quite amazing to see so many world leaders linking arms and walking together during the demonstration – how refreshing to see these people lay aside their differences for a while and join forces in showing that society just won’t bend to the tactics of terrorists. Freedom, and the gift of being able to speak and express oneself freely, is just too important of a gift in this modern age to even remotely loosen our grip on.
That’s not to say ‘freedom of speech’ is perfectly held onto, even in the so-called ‘free countries’. Political correctness and a fear of offending people can be obstacles – but compared to how many in this world are forced to live – under the constant threat of intimidation, oppression and fear – those of us in free societies have a freedom that many can only dream of.
Tragedy often brings people together. All one has to do is think of 9/11, when the reality of how much we need each other in communities was so strongly felt could be clearly seen. Same thing with natural disasters – such circumstances often cause folks to open their hearts to those affected. Light certainly does dispel the darkness.
As we move forward from the tragedies in Paris, let us not forget the price that has been paid for our freedom, and continue to guard and cherish this precious gift.