Former exchange student weighs in on “Charlie Hebdo” attacks

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It has been almost a month since the brutal terrorist attacks in Paris, better known as the “Charlie Hebdo” shootings. The Jan. 7 attack left 12 people dead and 11 injured.

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French exchange student Jeanne Ghyselen studied at Clarion University during the fall semester 2014. Ghyselen is a media, culture and communication major who normally studies at Université Catholique de Lille in her native city of Lille.

Lille is situated north of Paris and is a one-hour train journey away from the capital cirt.

Ghyselen weighed in on the attacks and what they mean for the people of France.

On the morning of Jan. 7, the Kouachi brothers, both Islamist terrorists, broke into the “Charlie Hebdo” newspaper offices and fired around 50 shots. Altogether, 17 people lost their lives over the span of three days. Twelve people died in the “Charlie Hebdo” attack, and five died in related attacks.

“France never knew something like this before…’Charlie’ had attacks before because of their drawings. But not that violent,” Ghyselen said.

Ghyselen was most shocked by the video footage of the murdered Muslim police officer, Ahmed Merabet. Merabet was shot in the head as he lay wounded on the ground.

“That’s why people also said ‘Je suis Ahmed.’ When we did gatherings and walks, it was not only ‘Je suis Charlie,’ it was ‘I am Ahmed,’ ‘I am a cop,’ ‘I am Jewish,’ ‘I am a Muslim,’ ‘I am French’…Because the Charlie Hebdo attack was only the first bad thing that happened.”

The following Sunday, Paris held a national unity rally that included 2 million people and over 40 world leaders.

Ghyselen compares last month’s rally to the Liberation of Paris after World War II in terms of numbers.

“[The rally is] my favorite moment about the events. That was a historic day. I felt the solidarity of French people, they were gathering for the freedom of press but not only. We were gathering to pay tribute to the 17 dead people but also to tell the terrorists we are not scared, that we are united. I never felt French people that united, that was a beautiful day.”

Global protests following the shooting fought in the name of freedom of speech. However, Pope Francis spoke out about the satirical “Charlie Hebdo” paper, saying that there are limits to insulting others’ faith.

“The cartoonists deserve freedom of speech…I think they can draw everything they want because they don’t only blame one religion but all the religions. Pope Francis gave his opinion as a religious representative. I can understand him because ‘Charlie Hebdo’ also made drawings with Jesus. And more generally, he is united with other faiths, that’s why he is against these drawings.”

In 2015, the attacks act as an important reminder that while there is freedom of speech, not everyone will agree with the law. Those who choose to employ their freedom of speech must decide if it is worth the risk of others disapproving.

The “Charlie Hebdo” writers took the risk knowingly.

“‘I’d rather die standing than living on my knees,’ said Charb [“Charlie Hebdo” editor-in-chief] some years ago. That sums up the situation.”

In the absence of former editor-in-chief Charb, “Charlie Hebdo” continues to live on with his words in mind.

The newspaper’s next edition will be available on Feb. 25, its second post-attack publication.

“Terrorists want us to be scared, and I’m not giving them what they want. The terror has no place in my mind. All I remember is that we gathered to tell them we are not scared and that we are more united than ever,” Ghyselen said.

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