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Millions of Parisians Named Charlie

Your concern and outcries for the tragedies that have been taking place in the City of Light have been overwhelming. I’d like to thank all of you for your emails, calls, Facebook posts, etc. to wish all of us here well. You have shown your support for the ‘fight against terrorism’ and the values we hold for the freedom of speech, the right to believe what we want to believe without judgment and the ability to behave as humans without succumbing to violence.

Sunday’s Unity Rally was the pinnacle of several days of world-shattering events. The crowds streaming into the area were building as it got closer to the 3 p.m. start of the march, which was to set off from Place de la République and head in three different directions. No one had any idea how massive the turnout would be — but the reports have estimated somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 million people coming together on the streets of Paris, and 3 million in all of France.

As one of them in Paris, sandwiched in the crowd that inched toward the Place, often with no movement at all, it was exciting to just be present there and feel the energy and spirit of young and old alike who came out to show their support and become a part of it. The sea of people, with no breaks in space from edge to edge of the boulevards and the Place was an awe-inspiring sight. The reports from friends in other parts of the city echoed my own experience.

In usual French style, the crowd was very well behaved, patient and quiet. Many had their make-shift signs echoing the “Je suis Charlie” message posted in a variety of ways. Lots of people were signed with slogans to proudly show off that they were Jewish with such signs as “Je suis Juif. Je suis Charlie.” It was moving to see such a mass of humanity coming together as one, side by side, even standing so close as physically touching shoulders, with a real feeling of “fraterinité” and no sign of animosity.

A few entrepreneurial folks took advantage of the big turnout. A young man stood at a small and temporary crèpe stand equipped with Nutella and bananas, cooking and serving them up, while behind him there was a food truck putting out “merguez” and baguette sandwiches…but they were few and far between compared to the literally millions of people who were not there to eat, but to chant “Je suis Charlie” and sing the Marseillaise…together. This is was a crowd that actually applauded the police when a van of them snaked through the crowd. When was the last time you witnessed such a thing?

More than 50 heads of state come to show their support. Arm in arm they led the march: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italy Prime Minister Matteo Renzi were out front marching with Hollande, arms laced. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu (who reportedly earlier encouraged French Jews to emigrate to Israel) was also arm in arm with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas! What else might have brought those two together like this?

Several of them made a special appearance at the Grande Synagogue de la Victoire just after the march to honor the victims of the kosher market attack. As a special honor, their bodies will be buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. President François Hollande and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls sat next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the ceremony in the synagogue, both wearing the traditional “kippot” (skull caps), which was broadcast live on France 24. There are amazing times in France and one can feel really proud of the public reaction.

There is no end to the open conversation about the marked anti-semitism in France and the rising exodus of French Jews to Israel. As a result of the terrorist attack on the kosher market, the topic of the fear of safety by the French Jewish community is heightened. The community now awaits a response by the French government regarding these issues and no doubt, these events will help move this discussion to a more positive result.

It was disturbing to receive one hateful comment in response to my special Nouvellettre® on Friday by a woman who is an Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at a California Institute of the Arts. She wrote: “You disgust me. I am unsubscribing to your right wing spam. Good god.”

One journalist friend, when seeing what she wrote, responded: “I don’t know what she was reading?” Does this mean she supports the terrorists? Or is she simply seriously disturbed and read what she wanted to read into what I wrote?

We all believe that no one with any moral conscience could possibly support the terrorist actions, but I am here to tell you that earlier in the week I heard some comments (second hand) that shocked me — made by a small group of Muslims who were offended enough by Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, that they were pleased. After participating in Sunday’s March, it’s hard to believe anyone would have the nerve to utter such words again, except within very ‘safe’ circles.

Hate is an emotion that is totally foreign to me — I don’t believe I’ve ever hated anyone, but clearly, there is enough hate in this world to fill the oceans. People are not born with hate. They are taught to hate. Even Miss Associate Dean for Academic Affairs has hate in her heart, enough to be disgusted by what she calls “right wing spam.” Perhaps now, we can dilute some of that hatred.

Friday lunchtime I made a special trip to Place de la République to see what was going on there. On the way down, on rue Béranger, past the school my daughter attended as a child, there was a massive crowd of press and police. The staff from Charlie Hebdo were being escorted into the offices of La Libération to plan their next edition to be published this coming Wednesday. One million will be printed instead of the usual 50,000.

Libération, along with other media outlets, have come to the rescue of the offbeat publication, in this case giving up their offices, their desks, their computers and their resources. The journalists and cartoonists “who survived the massacre pledged to create next week’s edition in memory of their colleagues and ‘write it with our tears’.” (dailymail.co.uk/)

At the Fondation Louis Vuitton Saturday afternoon during a welcome break from the week of senseless terrorist attacks, we came across a rather poignant work of art entitled “Charlie Don’t Surf.” A sculpture by Maurizio Cattelan, it consists of a child mannequin who sits at a school desk with the hands nailed down to it by two pencils. It struck me as particularly apropos considering the moment in time in which we were living.

The title, “Charlie Don’t Surf,” is a line from the film “Apocalypse Now,” spoken by Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore as justification for taking a beach at the Mekong Delta, just so the American soldiers could go surfing. The American soldiers referred to the Viet Cong as “Victor Charlie” or sometimes just “Charlie.”

Charlie Hebdo was originally launched in 1969 as “Hara-Kiri Hebdo” (“Hebdo” is short for hebdomadaire or “weekly”). It was banned in November 1970 after having released a cover spoofing the popular press’ coverage of a disastrous fire that took place at a nightclub in the home village of Charles de Gaulle, just eight days before his death. To sidestep the ban, the editorial team changed its title to “Charlie Hebdo,” a take-off from a comics magazine called “Charlie Mensuel” (Charlie Monthly), which in turn, had taken its name from Charlie Brown, the lead character of “Peanuts.” No question, it was all an inside joke relating Charles de Gaulle with Charlie Brown.

Washington Square Park rally in New York – photo by Erica Simone My daughter, Erica Simone who participated in a similar unity rally held in New York on Saturday, Facebook posted a photo she took at Washington Square Park and wrote a message hard to top:

“In times like these, solidarity is created and a sense of oneness that did not exist prior. The entire world comes together in unison, standing for Universal rights and the desire for peace. As barbaric as the last few days have been in Paris, these evil acts have united and strengthened an entire population in the name of justice. I just hope there will be a way to not blame and quarantine an entire population for the acts of these horrific individuals and to not escalate into a bigger war of ideology. Let’s hope this will be the end of this. What a mess.”

A la prochaine,

Adrian Leeds

The Adrian Leeds Group

(in the crowd at République)


Respond to Adrian


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