Matt Linenbroker is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2015, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A journalism and English major at the University of Missouri - School of Journalism, he is studying abroad in London this semester.
In his post below, Matt talks about his recent trip to Paris, post Charlie Hebdo.
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Between middle school and high school, I studied the French language for five years. During that time, I learned countless facts and tales about the City of Light, the City of Love, of Moulin Rouge, of history and art and culture, of the capital of wine and cheese – Paris.
But lately it’s gained a newer reputation, far more charged with political passion and human rights fervor.
Even if you’re not a follower of world politics, you’ve likely still seen signs or tweets declaring, “Je suis Charlie. Nous sommes Charlie.”
On January 7, 2015, 12 people were killed and at least 10 people were wounded when three masked gunmen wielding Kalashnikovs stormed the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, located in the center of Paris.
The publication is known for its political cartoons that often mock Islam. Eyewitness accounts say that the assailants emerged from the building shouting, “God is Great” and, “We have avenged the prophet” while firing shots into the air.
It was a horrifying slaughter and an undeniable act of terrorism.
On January 11, dignitaries and citizens alike marched through the streets in a rally meant to showcase French national unity and to condemn these barbaric acts.
But, of course, tensions were still high. And even though Muslims all over the world were denouncing the act of the men who had committed these acts in the name of a bastardized version of their religion, I still found myself wondering if a fear of Islam would linger in the streets of Paris? Would a fear of more violence?
When my train pulled into Gare du Nord Station, I attempted to somehow meld my previous conceptions of Paris – a romantic city of renaissance art and camembert cheese – with my latest understanding of the political upheaval.
Was I in enemy territory? I’m a student in the Missouri School of Journalism, after all. And though I’ve entered my emphasis area, Advertising and Public Relations, I still have that more classic journalist background; I still have a passion for free speech and the power of the media.
Like the banners and flags read, Je suis Charlie. I, too, am Charlie Hebdo. My friends are Charlie Hebdo. My home is Charlie Hebdo.
No one should be killed for the fundamental human right of expression.
But, I also found myself asking: just because we have the right to say anything we want, should we?
Admittedly, the Paris of old found ways of momentarily wiping away these concerns as my friends and I moved throughout the city. It did not hinder our ability to walk among the Sienne and stare at the beautiful ashy white buildings, or lock eyes with Mona Lisa herself, or to eat delicious, mouth-watering, incomparable food. For three American journalism students visiting the city for a weekend, Paris lived on.
However, amidst the baguettes and wine, the terror of the past three weeks found moments to roar back in startling clarity. Three armed French soldiers patrolled the Metro stop near our hotel, and guarded the entrances to the Eiffel Tower, and could often be spotted, just in the distance, as we moved about the grand city. I felt thankful for their presence, but they jolted me out of the romanticism immediately – where was I? A war zone? No, no, just Paris. Everything is fine.
And everything was fine. I never felt unsafe in Paris. There were just times where I could tell tensions were still high and wounds were still fresh. Like while using a public restroom in a fast food restaurant along the Champs Elysees, and I came across this:
I’ve tried to translate it fully, but haven’t been able to – words are misspelled and the grammar is off. So I will merely say that, “Pourriture” in French means “Rotten,” and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
When I arrived at Gare du Nord, I wondered if I was a journalist in enemy territory. When I left Gare du Nord, I knew that I wasn’t. This vile crime, a bastardization of one of the world’s most prominent religions, could have happened anywhere. And those who sought to violently hinder free speech are clearly a small minority.
And so I left feeling safe, content from a weekend of beautiful views, gooey fromage, and rich history. But I also felt a tinge of sadness for a city in pain, a city in flux, undergoing an event that will shape French national unity for the years to come.
I’m hoping for the best.
Matt’s journey continues every Friday so stay tuned!