Je suis Charlie: Nous sommes Charlie

 Je suis Charlie races my synapses. It’s a cold rainy morning as I head for Albertine, the library at the French Consulate on Fifth Avenue looking for a novel by Michel Houellebecq, one of France’s most controversial and celebrated writers. Submission is a futurist vision about a clash of Western values with those of radical Islam that was scheduled for publication the very day cold-blooded terrorists massacred 12 people at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

The news of the atrocity was devastating, a shock that reverberated around the world. That innocent men and women would be assassinated for publishing cartoons was inconceivable. After all, the principle of a free press has been enshrined in France for hundreds of years: 'I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it' —Voltaire.

Our Founding Fathers felt free speech to be the cornerstone of a free and democratic society, made it the First Amendment to the Constitution: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the rights of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Within minutes of learning of the terrorist attack, the Twitter feed around the world erupted with the heartfelt sentiment and hashtag: #JeSuisCharlie. The meaning was clear: If you attack the magazine Charlie Hebdo, you attack me and the right of free speech. It went viral. Days later came an unprecedented outpouring of 1.5 million citizens in Paris at the Place de la République.


Today, it's early and all is quiet as I approach the Consulate, where flowers stand to one side of the doorway. Leaning over, I read a hand-written note, not Je suis Charlie, but Nous sommes tous Charlie. Nous sommes tous Ahmed. Nous sommes tous France. We are all Charlie; We are all Ahmed; We are all France.

Then it all comes back, the similar heartfelt messages after the bombing of the World Trade Towers-- the disbelief, the pain, the heartbreak and anguish. Leaving a soggy umbrella under the coat rack, I wave to the guard. Entering the bookshop, I find I have the place to myself. Since the librarian isn’t busy, I ask about Michel Houellebecq's books. Her favorites in stock are Whatever and The Map and the Territory, which won the prestigious Prix Goncourt. When I ask about another author, Georges Simenon, one of her favorite “Simenons” is Three Bedrooms in Manhattan. I admire librarians who walk around with all that useful knowledge.

With errands to do, I pick up a the following, along with Three Bedrooms in Manhattan. Three bedrooms in Manhattan? That will cost you a chunk of change. But what strikes me about the books is how direct and bold the covers are compared to those of novels by women. Would you agree?

At this time of year, I don't mind the cold but miss the sun. New York has so many grey-sky days that we're setting off to the Caribbean next week. Don't know how much 'Frenchiness' I'll find in the islands, but I'll do my best to bring you back something of interest. For starters, the master of cuisine on board our ship is the wold-famous chef and TV personality Jacques Pepin. Bon appetit!

As I pick up the umbrella, someone has buttoned it for me, leaving it a neater trimmer version of itself. No messiness allowed at the French Consulate. Exiting the building, another bouquet has magically appeared.

Oui, nous sommes Charlie. Do you agree? Let me know what you think, I would love to hear from you. And remember, sharing is caring...merci beaucoup mes amis.