What Is “Je Suis Charlie” And Why Did Terrorist attack In France? 

By  Annie André

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What is Je Suis Charlie An honest but confused look from someone who lives in France and who is not French

Daughter: “Mama, what is “Je Suis Charlie?”

ME: “Um”

Daughter: Are the bad people in Paris going to come here where we live? (We live in France by the way).

My daughter was asking about the events on the 7th of January where 17 people were killed by what some are saying was a terrorist attack.

Unless you live under a rock, chances are you also heard about it.  But what exactly happened? Why are people rallying? Why did terrorists target Charlie Hebdo? Why, why, why?

I’m no expert but l will do my best to explain things as I know it and give you a point of view from someone who is actually living in France at the time of the event

pintrest pin about What Is "Je Suis Charlie" And Why Did Terrorist attack In France?

What happened and Why am I writing about this

First the WHAT!  I am writing these words exactly 7 days after the 3 day terror began on the 7th of January 2015 where twelve people were killed at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine that publishes controversial cartoons.

On Thursday, immediately following the tragic events at Charlie Hebdo, there was a fatal shooting of a police officer by a third person who was linked to the first attack. After killing the police oficer, he then entered a Jewish supermarket and took hostages, 4 of which he murdered.

A total of 17 people were killed!

WHY? Part of the reason I am writing about this is for myself. So I can make sense of it all. Writing helps me think.

Another reason is  to perhaps give you; a little perspective from someone who is not a French citizen but who was living in France when the incident happened. And maybe shed some light on certain nuances that you can only understand if you actually live here in France.

Who was responsible?

Je-suis-charlie-gun pencil

French illustrator Jean Jullien

Muslim extremists took credit for the attack.

Here in France, they have shown footage of the killers admitting they were funded by Al-Quaida branch in Yemen and that the attack was carried out in order to avenge the honour of the Prophet Muhammad.

The three people who carried out the terrorist attacks were all French born.

French born brothers carried out the attack on the Satire magazine Charlie hebdo but were of Algerian descent. Both the brothers were well-known to French police, and their names were on the U.S. ”no-fly” terror lists for years.

The supermarket attack was carried out by one man who was French while his wife is said to have fled the country and was last seen near the Turkish-Syrian border.

All three men were killed.

What has it been like for us here in France?

Although my family and I live in the South of France, about 10 hours drive from Paris, the effects are being felt just as strongly.

There is a tenseness in the air that is hard to explain.

There are roughly 5 million Muslims living in France. Many of which are 2nd and even 3rd generations French born. The divide between the Muslims and non Muslims has always been present but now it seems some French people are using this event to lump all Muslims into one basket and retaliating against innocent muslims.

There have been numerous attacks against Muslims, including several mosques and even a kabob shop that was blown up. (Kabab shops are all over France and are usually run by someone of Arab descent).

The news is non-stop about the events and everywhere I go, I see signs posted that say “JE SUIS CHARLIE”.

Even my 7 year old daughter is aware of the events. She drew a sign for herself while I was cooking diner one night.  (she left out the “E” on Charlie)jesuischarlie-catherine

France remains on high alert while investigators determine whether the attackers were part of a larger extremist network.

Unity Rally: It is estimated that 3.7 people gathered around France. 

Most of Europe and certain parts of the world are rallying together in solidarity against what happened under the phrase JE SUIS CHARLIE.


On Sunday, the 11th of January, France had it’s largest Rally in history.

Over 1.6 million demonstrators surged through the streets of Paris behind over 50 world leaders walking arm-in-arm Sunday in a rally for unity described as the largest demonstration in French history.

Millions more marched around the country and the world including London and Ireland.

It is estimated that over 3.7 million people rallied across France in unity to defend freedom of speech and western democratic values against terrorism.

More than 5,500 police and soldiers were deployed that Sunday across France, guarding marches, synagogues, mosques, schools and other sites.

My son’s whole high school class skipped school to attend a Rally in Hyeres France where he goes to school; as did many schools across France.

The Eiffel tower went black for a minute of silence at 8 pm on Thursday.

je suis charlie eiffel tower

This is just what happened in the last 7 days.

Background behind the words “Je Suis Charlie”

The slogan “Je suis Charlie”, which means “I am Charlie” is meant to identify the speaker or supporter with those who were killed at the Charlie Hebdo shooting.

Therefore when you say “Je suis Charlie”, you are in essence a supporter of freedom, of speech, and resistance to armed threats.

Some liken the phrase or say that the meme or slogan is closely related to the phrase made by John F. Kennedy’s at the Berlin wall in his 1962 speech where he says  “Ich bin ein Berliner”. The phrase which roughly translates “I am a Berliner” was said to express America’s support for the people of Berlin by literally claiming himself as one of them.

There was a similar genre made by the French to show support after the 9/11 attack when the “Le Monde” paper printed “Nous sommes tous américans” meaning  “we are all Americans”

  • 1963 : JFK “Ich bin ein Berliner” -> I am a Berliner, JFK expressed compassion and solidarity with the German
  • 2001 : Editorial on “Le Monde” newspaper on Sept, 12th 2001 : “Nous sommes tous américains” -> we are all American. French people felt like and supported American people. See on the right :
  • 2015 : Charlie Hedbo : “Je suis  Charlie” -> I am Charlie, meaning we are all like Charlie people, we suffer from the loss the same way they are, and are as outraged as they are.

How Did the Slogan “Je Suis Charlie” Start and spread so far and fast?PX*13709059

Twitter heat map shows the jesuischarlie hashtag as it spreads around the world on Twitter

It’s a message that was supposedly started by Joachim Roncin, an artist and music journalist for Stylist, who posted on twitter one hour after the attack; (#JeSuisCharlie).

Within the span of 24 hours, the slogan went viral on twitter and it’s estimated that close to 65,000 tweets were being tweeted per hour. A record for even twitter.


Shortly after the attack, Charlie Hebdo went offline and when it returned it bore the Je Suis Charlie on a black background. (The above photo is a screenshot I took of their website).

The statement was then not only used as a hashtag on Twitter (#jesuischarlie and iamcharlie) but people across France and the world printed or hand-made signs, stickers and displays at vigils and on many websites, particularly media sites and social networks.

Supporters: How are they showing support?

je suis charlie george cloone

Many people around the world are showing support and spreading the word including well known stars who attended the Golden Globe awards by carrying signs and buttons that said “Je suis Charlie”.

George Clooney gave tribute by wearing a “Je suis Charlie button” at the Golden Globe awards and saying “There were millions of people that marched. . .in support of the idea that we will not walk in fear. We won’t do it. So, je suis Charlie.”

Inspirational Art Work and Cartoons To Tribute Paris Victims and Support Freedom

Artists around the globe showed their support by drawing their own rendition of the Je suis charlie slogan.


[pullquote align=”normal”]Those cartoonists hadn’t launched any Hellfire missiles, hadn’t kidnapped anybody for so-called “enhanced interrogation”, hadn’t even frozen the bank accounts of any wealthy Muslims. I don’t hear anyone saying that they had so much as conversed with unmarried Muslim ladies. All they had done was express on paper what many of my fellow citizens were thinking, without sugarcoating. There is no rational way to interpret the attack on them except as an attack on me and the culture of which I am proud to be part.(source)[/pullquote]

The Simpsons homage.


Martin Handford,the illustrator for the “Where is Waldo” series which is actually called “Ou est Charlie” in France, drew his famous character in homage of the recent events also.


Found on facebook, don’t know who this is by.


From BLAKK on deviant art

What is Charlie Hebdo and why were they targeted?

Charlie Hebdo which roughly translated means “Charlie Weekly” is a French satire magazine best known for publishing cartoons that mock and criticize Islam; Islamic extremism, and the prophet Mohammed. (the main reason the terrorists claimed they targeted the magazine).

Many Muslims consider portrayals of the Prophet Mohammed to be a serious insult and religious offence.

By design, the cartoons were supposed to be raunchy, crude and made to provoke.

Some people are saying the magazine was asking for it because of the type of messages they put out  in their weekly issues.

While the drawings were shocking, you should understand that the French brand of political satire called “gouaille”, (meaning banter) is a very different form of satire than the American political satire in that it is based on free thinking love of provocation that stands against authority.

Parisians even pride themselves on “gouaille.

Blasphemy is a national pastime, not a dirty word in France.

Cartoons That Terrorists Thought Were Worth Killing Over

This was not the first time Charlie Hebdo was targeted, nor was it the first of it’s type. Watch the video below to get a little background on this.

I am not sure if you remember this but back in 2005, there was a similar event where a Danish newspaper published 12 cartoons, most of Muhammad, in the same way that Charlie Hebdo did.

The cartoons sparked riots that left more than 250 people dead around the world.

In 2006, Charlie Hebdo  included the infamous Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and put a crying Muhammad  on the cover, with a speech bubble saying “It’s hard being loved by assholes.”Jesuischarliecover2.jpg

5 years later, Charlie hebdo was firebombed after it published an issue where they jokingly said the issue was “guest-edited” by the Prophet Mohammed (“100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter”).


Counter-hashtags have appeared as expressions of disagreement with the unconditional support of Charlie Hebdo.

JeNeSuisPasCharlie (I am not Charlie) has been used by those who accuse the magazine of racism.  JeNeSuisPasCharlie has been used around 20,000 times by critics of Charlie Hebdo according to  BBC News.

Other people have said that they brought this upon themselves by mocking the Muslim religion.

I am not sure if in the US or the world for that matter, if the media pointed out that Charlie hebdo also poked fun at Christianity, Judaism and anything else in a position of authority including it’s own president.

je suis chalie hebdo mocked everyone

Past covers include former French President Nicolas Sarkozy looking like a sick vampire  and an Orthodox Jew kissing a Nazi soldier.


Jesuischarlie-AnonymousHacktivist group Anonymous has promised to avenge the attacks and a Belgian ‘branch’ of Anonymous posted a video message to YouTube describing a new campaign against Jihadists, called OpCharlieHebdo.

In the video, in true anonymous fashion, a masked man says  (in French) “We will track you down – every last one – and will kill you,”  “You allowed yourselves to kill innocent people, we will therefore avenge their deaths.”


50 world leaders show up in support of Frances fight for freedom on Sunday after the terrorist attack.

I have been watching the news coming from the US via the internet and have seen all the questions and statements regarding Obama’s absence where over 50 world leaders marched together in unity on the Sunday following the terrorist attack.

In fact, there seems to be a lot of talk about him not attending. But it’s not just American media that is taking notice. The French media noticed too. But the French’s coverage of Obamas absence has not been as prolific as the American coverage. It’s been a blip on the French radar. The French have been doing a great job of keeping most of focus on the fight.

Part of me says Obama should have been there but part of me also wishes the media would put the focus on what happened rather than Obama’s absence. Even the White House acknowledged their mistake so let’s move on.

Forbes columnist Stuart Anderson echoed Zakaria’s statements, saying:

[pullquote align=”normal”]By not attending the unity rally in Paris on Sunday, President Obama has missed an opportunity to show leadership, to demonstrate that Americans are as committed to fight against terrorism as anyone in the world and that America stands with its allies in a worldwide battle that, unfortunately, is likely to last many years.'[/pullquote]

Is it safe in France? What happens now?

Because the gunmen were Muslim French citizens, some are saying that this is the beginning or the trigger for a civil war. Remember, I said that there are over 5 million muslims living in France.

I don’t know if Islam-phobic is the right word but there is definitely a great divide between French and the Muslims.

This isn’t something I heard on the radio, this is the sentiment that I know exists after having lived in France for years and hearing how many French people talk about Muslims. It can make one very uncomfortable. For instance, the time one of my friends justified certain racial comments against some Muslims at our daughters school by saying “well it isn’t racism if it’s true”.

This attack by Muslim extremest has probably deepened that divide even though I know for a fact that most Muslims here in France do not condone the actions of a few extremists.

I have been hearing stories on twitter, in forums and through friends of friends who say that they feel like hey are being targeted for being “’foreign looking” (i.e. non-white). Stares from armed police. People yelling at them from their cars.

Is it safe?

Many people have emailed me saying they want to take a trip to France and they want to know if it is safe?

I should’t laugh because many French people have asked me if it was safe to travel to the US considering there are mass shootings at schools which seems to happen at least once every couple of years.

So is it safe? Let me ask you this. If you are living in the US, did you feel safe sending your kids to school after hearing about crazy gunmen shooting down children in public schools?

Did you feel safe after 9/11?.

Nothing in life is safe or guaranteed and no one could have foresaw the events in Paris this week .All you can do is get on with living your life, otherwise the terrorists have won.

Jesuischarlie-editorPhoto of the editor who was the main target of the Charlie hebdo attack.

So yes, I feel as safe as I did when I lived in the US and Canada.

Why are so many people rallying in support of France now?

Despite the fact that many people are saying that the magazine brought this upon themselves. I am not one of them.

Many people, including myself believe the reason so many people are coming out in support and standing united against terrorism is to show “them” that we believe in our right to freedom and that we do not fear “them”.

As Voltaire once said “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

The French have shown such a tremendous amount of unity. I can honestly say I have never in all my years on this earth been part of and seen first hand this widespread support.

They are coming out in support of freedom.

Marche républicaine à Paris : «C’est ça la… by leparisien

For now, the world is taking a stand for free speech.

Proclaiming the pen mightier than the sword.

Humour stronger than fear.(source)

If we’re too afraid to speak out against “them”, then the terrorists have won.

I know that most people reading this blog are Americans. I leave you with this last final thought.

Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with.  We do not do so because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened.  We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities. (source White House)


Je suis charlie Nigeria Boko Haram

The sign above reads, “I am Charlie don’t forget about the victoms of the Boko Haram”

Just days before the attack in Paris, over 2,000 people, mostly the elderly and children were massacred by Boko Haram across northern Nigeria. But the world seems to have not taken as much notice.

Some people are asking why did the Paris attacks receive more coverage than the Niegerian slaughter?

I can’t answer why this happened. You should read about it and help spread the word. 

If you would like the opinion of another French person who happens to live in the US then go check out my friend Sylviane blog post  CHARLIE HEBDO FRANCE HAS BEEN HURT BECAUSE OF A CARTOON

  1. Annie,

    Thanks for the detail here!

    Also, love the new site. We should definitely chat, so I can have you on the Art of Breaking Out podcast! You’d be perfect!

    1. Hi Craig,
      thanks and thanks.I did a revamp of the site. I would love to chat. have your peope call my people. Just kidding. I can usually talk when the kids are at school. Not sure what time zone you are in but there is 6 hours difference between here in France and East coast.

  2. Great.

    I’ve got a great idea that I’m proposing you in an email, now. You’ll get it in just a few minutes :) Could be great to spread the word for you biz ;)

    Got really excited about your wonderful post here.

  3. Hi Annie,

    Fantastic post.

    I have written my own version of Charlie Hebdo on my blog and I’ve followed all the news live from France on France 24 channel.

    I will write a follow up tomorrow and I will link to this post of yours.

    You’ve done a great job.

    By the way, I would like to speak with you over Skype in regards to my upcoming trip to Italy :)
    Could you let me know when you’ll have some time for me?

    Have a great day!

Comments are closed.

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