How the Charlie Hebdo attack unites the world

The deadly Charlie Hebdo shooting in France is spurring hundreds of thousands across the globe to gather in weekend rallies that call for free speech and religious tolerance. 

Lionel Cironneau/AP Photo
Brigitte Le Blein of Nice, France shows her hand reading "I am Charlie" during a silent march on Jan. 10 for victims of the shooting at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Ten journalists and two policemen were killed on Jan. 7 in a terrorist attack at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris.

Saturday marked the start of a weekend of rallies in cities worldwide, as hundreds of thousands gathered in Paris to protest this week’s shooting at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Masked gunmen entered the publication’s Paris offices Wednesday morning and killed 12 people, including 10 staff members and two police officers, in what French president Francois Hollande has called “undoubtedly a terrorist attack.” Authorities say the gunmen were motivated by the magazine’s satirical depictions of the Prophet Mohammad and criticisms of fundamentalist Islam. Another attack Friday at a kosher supermarket in the city brought the total dead to 17. 

While the online response was immediate – the Twitter hashtag #JeSuisCharlie, or “I Am Charlie,” had been retweeted more than 3.4 million times as of Thursday, according to Twitter France – the reaction has spilled out of the Internet and onto the streets: More than 700,000 people turned out in cities around France to protest the attack Saturday, AP reports. Authorities expect at least a million to be at the demonstrations by Sunday.

A "unity rally" is planned in London Sunday to coincide with those in France, and in tribute, landmarks such as Trafalgar Square and the Tower Bridge will be lit in the French flag's red, white, and blue starting 4 p.m. local time. Since Wednesday, hundreds have already held silent vigils in London, with many protesters carrying signs advocating the right to free expression.

One of the sayings displayed, according to The Huffington Post UK, is one attributed to Voltaire: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I defend to death your right to say it.” (Voltaire didn't actually say it, according to "What they Didn’t Say – A Book of Misquotations.")

In Lebanon, Ayman Mhanna, executive director of the Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom based in Beirut, has rounded up about 1,200 people via Facebook for a Sunday afternoon rally “in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo and in support of freedom of expression.”

Dozens of Palestinians also gathered in Hebron in the West Bank on Saturday, the Jerusalem Post reports.

"This is a stand alongside the French people, who usually stand by the Palestinians,” said Anwar Abu Aisha, head of the Hebron-France Association for Cultural Exchanges, which organized the demonstration. “The French people are shocked by these acts that violate their values, especially the freedom and the freedom of speech.”

Another two hundred demonstrators carrying "Je Suis Charlie" signs gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa, Saturday to listen to speeches condemning the attacks and to have a moment of silence to honor the dead.

In the United States, 2,400 users have said on Facebook that they plan to attend an afternoon rally at Washington Square Park in New York City. Another 1,000 have pledged to go to another protest being held in partnership with the French Consulate in San Francisco on Sunday.

The rallies are, in some cases, about more than freedom of the press. In Dresden, Germany – the center of recent anti-immigration protests in the country -- 35,000 gathered on Saturday to speak out against xenophobia and racism, Reuters reports.

"We have made clear that the events in France, this barbaric terrorist act, are a challenge for all of us, for the values that we advocate, to fight for them," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. Merkel, who will take part in a silent march in Paris on Sunday, added that people must distinguish between Islam and religious fanatics.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo is said to be the deadliest militant attack on French soil since 1961.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.