Issue #212  1/14/2015
Je Suis Charlie. Je Suis Juif. Je Suis Ahmed.

By Alex Novak

Last week terrorists attacked us all. Make no mistake—the attacks by mad men in France were attacks on all the world's peoples. They followed unthinkingly their puppet masters, who perform their own cruel, fanatical acts of violence on innocents in the Middle East and elsewhere, which no God would ever endorse or excuse and which the Muslim community and its religious leaders condemn overwhelmingly.

These senseless attacks in France have been denounced by the entire world, even by those governments whose own actions against journalists, artists, and those of other religions now make them squirm over the implications that they too might share some of the responsibility for this insanity.

You have heard the news and seen plenty of commentary, I am sure, so why another voice added to the chorus condemning these despicable actions?

I think we all must stand up at such times: no voice is unimportant. To stand silent is to let the proponents of ignorance and extremism win.

"I do not agree with what you have to say," Voltaire once proclaimed, "but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." I feel that way about Charlie Hebno's, whose offices were not far from where I stay in Paris in the Marais. I admit that I thought the publication was often childish and unnecessarily over-the-top. Yes, it was offensive, as many pieces of satire and art are, but that's what makes them so important—the ability to provoke and poke fun at institutions that need it desperately. Charlie Hebno's was an equal-opportunity offender, taking on most major religions and political figures. But the journalists and cartoonists there would also defend the rights of all oppressed including those they poked fun at, just as a Muslim policeman tried to protect the staff of Charlie Hebno's and was shot and killed in the process.

As Qasim Rashid, national spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA, said in the New York Times, "While the cartoons may be offensive to Muslims (and here, I might add, many others too), there’s zero justification for any kind of violent response. Nothing in Islam permits that violent response. In fact, the Quran specifically condemns a violent response."

Hassen Chalghoumi, imam of the Drancy mosque in Paris’s Seine-Saint-Denis suburb said, "These are criminals, barbarians. They have sold their soul to hell. This is not freedom. This is not Islam, and I hope the French will come out united at the end of this."

During Sunday's demonstration many Muslims and those of other faiths, including imams and priests, wore signs that stately baldly, "Je suis Juif" or "I am Jewish" in a sign of solidarity with the Jewish community here, who lost four of its members in the Jewish market store that was invaded. Some in the store were even protected by a Muslim store clerk, who worked to hide them away from the coward who shot innocent bystanders.

Others in the Jewish community wore signs that read "Je suis Ahmed", who was the Muslim policemen, Ahmed Merabet, killed at the Charlie Hebno's office by the terrorists.

It was a broad show of unity against the small—in all the sense of that word--forces of darkness. It was a defeat for those who would promote a sense of anti-otherness. It was also a demonstration of the power of how positive community can come together and answer such demagoguery and evil. This will not end such acts unfortunately, nor will it stop certain people and groups from trying to take advantage of the situation to further bigotry and prejudice. But it was an important manifestation of the will to fight such forces.

Maybe I also add my voice because I am so proud of the French people, including my friends in the photography community and my own daughter, who all rose up spontaneously and splendidly in support of democracy and freedom of religion and expression in huge numbers—four million people in the largest demonstration ever in France.

It makes me proud to say that in this moment of solidarity: "Je suis Francais."

Novak has over 45 years experience in the photography-collecting arena. He is a long-time member and formally board member of the Daguerreian Society, and, when it was still functioning, he was a member of the American Photographic Historical Society (APHS). He organized the 2016 19th-century Photography Show and Conference for the Daguerreian Society. He is also a long-time member of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers. Novak has been a member of the board of the nonprofit Photo Review, which publishes both the Photo Review and the Photograph Collector, and is currently on the Photo Review's advisory board. He was a founding member of the Getty Museum Photography Council. He is author of French 19th-Century Master Photographers: Life into Art.

Novak has had photography articles and columns published in several newspapers, the American Photographic Historical Society newsletter, the Photograph Collector and the Daguerreian Society newsletter. He writes and publishes the E-Photo Newsletter, the largest circulation newsletter in the field. Novak is also president and owner of Contemporary Works/Vintage Works, a private photography dealer, which sells by appointment and at exhibit shows, such as AIPAD New York and Miami, Art Chicago, Classic Photography LA, Photo LA, Paris Photo, The 19th-century Photography Show, etc.