Charlie’s Face

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National mourning, stuttering media, flags at half-mast and unprecedented millions over hundreds of silent solidarity walks. France has been hit, where it hurts. And even its remotest members, overconfident of their patriotic detachment, must acknowledge how lively its running nerves still remain – I, too, was and am shocked.

“Je suis Charlie” – ‘I am Charlie’, echo on the minds, the lips and the banners of a nation understandably incapable, yet, to find other words to match sadness and fear. ‘I am Charlie’ – symbol of solidarity, certainly, of a bond between citizen and free press, a band, ‘Band of Brothers’ ideology saying: “before the shotgun we are all one”, “we stand together”, “I will give my life for the freedom of existence and expression of my Brother”, and primarily, “in killing Him, you are killing me”. ‘United before Barbary’, in the words of President Francois Hollande’s call – a nation mourning, a nation victim of terror.

But ‘I am Charlie’ is also saying: all for the victims. The mechanism is engaged: victim means culprit, culprit means trial, trial means condemnation and punishment. But will the legal response be all? France may have been at the spearhead of modern democratic ideals, and Truth and Justice will undoubtedly be reaffirmed, and regained once more. But ever since those ideals won over its other traditions of values, especially its various branches of religious morality, the country has been left in front of the deadlock of the modern, rational and secular Dream: Is freedom really just an individual business? Is Justice really just about condemning the culprits? And add, on top of this plunging scenario, the deep inexperience of France in thinking and living what is perhaps the greatest challenge and reality of the societies of today and tomorrow – multiculturalism. What are France’s traditional resources to reflect and respond to such a shock? That is… besides the tragically deep intolerance of the right and far right candidates for the next elections? The immediate comments have shown to all the shameless vengeful spirit of our leaders of tomorrow:

Our democracy is under attack Nicolas Sarkozy

Fear is here Marine Le Pen

Thus, today, our sudden passion in wearing the mask of Charlie’s Face, and crying for our victimised values, is probably making us forget about the other truth of faces. The Other’s face, always vulnerable, should not just call for my protection, according to philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. Vulnerable, it is what permits both care and harm, and thus recalls my permanent, absolute, almost tragic responsibility for the Other. The Other’s condition is always the result of my responsibility. Responsibility, and thus culpability, too, since pain and misery is a general state in our world. Our culpability in Syria, where faces were wounded by the French till just 80 years back, guardians of a tradition carried today by its new terror perpetrators. The faces of forcefully westernised cultures, all over the world, still uneasy in their colonisation hangover. The faces of inequitable worldwide economic structures, still largely for the profit of western populations. It will take effort, patience, and primarily belief, for France to go beyond the corpses of its immediate Other. It will take us time, and faith, to leave the isolation of our values. Time, to realise how deeply we are not just on the side of the victims. Time, to understand the ambitious ethical demands of tomorrow.

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Image courtesy: I-Voix

About Samuel Buchoul

Samuel Buchoul is a trans-medium trace creator. A founding member of LILA, he is editor, writer, translator, graphic & web designer and photographer. A student of Philosophy, Buddhism and Communication, he aims at expanding rigorous reflection, critical and creative thinking beyond the walls of university and literature.