Watching Free Speech Threatened By Terror in Paris Reminds Me Why I Write, and Who I Love
Like the rest of the world, I watched in horror as the news about the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo unfolded this week. It was an attack on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and an attack on the city of Paris. As someone with French residency — and a French husband who’s in Paris right now — it's been a sad and scary few days, to say the least.
When Charlie Hebdo's office was attacked on Wednesday, I called my husband Olivier immediately. I knew he was nowhere near the office of Charlie Hebdo, but that’s just what you do — check in to be sure.
When he picked up the phone there was silence. As he cleared his throat, I realized he’d been crying. We talked for a couple minutes about what the Parisian media was saying about the terrorist attack compared to the media Stateside, then he told me he’d call me later. He just couldn’t talk about it anymore.
Then it was my turn to cry.
At first, I thought I was crying because I had heard his voice, broken with devastation and disbelief, but still trying to remain strong. I assumed it was just my natural response to the pain that the man I love was suffering because his city had come under attack.
The attack against Charlie Hebdo hits me on both a personal and professional level.
While that was indeed part of it, I realized there was more to my grief than just that. I was grieving for Paris, and what the murder of those 12 people at Charlie Hebdo really meant: Twelve individuals, with family and friends, who were doing what they loved and believed in, were gone. They were silenced. It was their silencing that had pushed me from tears to complete sobbing.
I believe, above all, in the right of freedom of expression. Before I even completely understood the meaning of it, my father had driven into the minds of my sister and I the Voltaire quote, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” A belief in freedom of speech is at the very core of my beliefs. It’s something that has shaped not just the person I am, but the career I chose.
I sometimes write about topics that result in threats against me. The first time I publicly wrote about my abortion, I came under verbal attack by right wing Christians, and was even called out for my “whorish ways” by the Westboro Baptist Church on Twitter. It was the first time that strangers had wished me dead —and all because of my choice to terminate the pregnancy.
I responded to the hate with a follow-up article stating that not only was my abortion the best decision of my life, but that I was happy that I had written about it. I had an abortion — and I was lucky enough to have a platform where I could share that with the thousands of women who had also made the same decision. I didn’t just write it for me. I wrote it for them, too.
In this way, the attack against Charlie Hebdo hits me on both a personal and professional level.
On Friday morning, like the rest of the United States, I awoke to find yet another assault on the French people. Knowing Olivier was out and about running errands, I felt the sort of sickness that comes with the thought of, "what if?" Although I knew the likelihood that he was in either place where hostages were being held was the tiniest of possibilities, I couldn’t help but get a bit panicky when he didn’t pick up the phone after several attempts. When he finally picked up, he cleared his throat, and I knew that there had been tears today, too.
“Paris is hurt,” he told me, “Paris will be changed. You can feel the fear and tension everywhere.” He said that they would be stronger and more united after this, as Americans were after 9/11. But just as our nation was changed, France will be forever changed, too. The number of casualties may differ, but they’re both still attacks on the very thing both France and the U.S. hold dear: Freedom.
As I listened to him talk, struggling to find the exact words to express his despair, I wished I could be there with him. I wished I could hold him and stand beside him tonight in Paris as he joins the thousands of supporters with their “Je suis Charlie,” signs. But I am not. Instead, I’m here in the States grieving for my family abroad and the other city I call home, Paris.
I am Charlie for Charlie Hebdo, I am Charlie for Paris, and I am Charlie for Olivier.