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  • What Is “Je Suis Charlie” And Why Did Terrorist attack Paris? Opinion from someone living in France

What Is “Je Suis Charlie” And Why Did Terrorist attack Paris? Opinion from someone living in France

Je Suis Charlie is slogan of unity after a terrorists attack killed 17 people on January 7th of 2015. This is what happened.

By Annie André ⦿ updated January 11, 2024  

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?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).

When my 8-year-old daughter asked me about the events on January 17th of 2015, where terrorists killed 17 people, I didn’t know exactly what to tell her. 

I’ll do my best to explain things as I understand them from someone who is actually living in France at the time of the event.

What happened in Paris, 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, a police officer was shot by a third person who was linked to the first attack. After killing the police officer, he 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 give you perhaps; a little perspective from someone who is not a French citizen but 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.

UPDATE: A series of coordinated terrorist attacks took place on Friday, November 13 and Saturday, November 14th, 2015, in Paris: The attackers killed 130 people, including 90 at the Bataclan theatre. In total, 416 people were injured. These attacks were the deadliest in France since World WarII.

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 the Al-Qaeda branch in Yemen funded them and that the attack was carried out to avenge the honour of the Prophet Muhammad.

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

French-born brothers attacked 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.

One French man carried out the supermarket attack while his wife has 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.

Roughly 5 million Muslims are living in France. Many of which are 2nd and even 3rd generations French-born. The divide between Muslims and non-Muslims has always been present. Still, it seems some French people are using this event to lump all Muslims into one basket and retaliate 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 dinner one night.  (she left out the “E” on Charlie)


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

Je Suis Charlie T-Shirt

Stand with Charlie Hebdo and support the Freedom of the Press with this print t-shirt

Buy Now See all designs

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 its largest Rally in history.

Over 1.6 million demonstrators surged through Paris’s streets 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.

The 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 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 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 Berlin’s people by literally claiming himself as one of them.

The French made a similar genre 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 the 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

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

It’s a message 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 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 worldwide 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.


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 thought without sugarcoating. There is no rational way to interpret the attack on them except as an attack on me and the culture I am proud to be part of. (source)

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 to the recent events.


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 say the magazine asked 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. 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 its 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 its 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.


Hacktivist 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 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 Obama’s 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 the focus on the fight.

Part of me says Obama should have been there, but part of me also wishes the media would 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:

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.

Is it safe in France? What happens now?

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

I don’t know if Islam-phobia is the right word, but there is definitely a great divide between the 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, when one of my friends justified certain racial comments against some Muslims at our daughter’s school by saying, “well, it isn’t racism if it’s true.”

This attack by Muslim extremists 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 heard stories on Twitter, in forums and through friends of friends who say they feel like they 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 asking me if it’s safe to come to France?

I shouldn’t laugh because many French people have asked me if it was safe to travel to the US, considering 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 live 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 foreseen 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?

Although many people say 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. 

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 victims of the Boko Haram.”

Just days before the Paris attack, 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 Nigerian 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’s blog post-CHARLIE HEBDO FRANCE HAS BEEN HURT BECAUSE OF A CARTOON.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a 'petite commission' at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my links. It helps me buy more wine and cheese. Please read my disclosure for more info.

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Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog annieandre.com for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.


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