Like most people, I was horrified at the events in Paris this past week. Paris is a city I love deeply and I have friends, there. The attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Jewish kosher supermarket were shocking, but the reaction of the French people and the actions of two men, Ahmed Merabet and Lassana Bathily, were amazing.
In the hours following the attack on Charlie Hebdo, grief and sympathy flooded social media. “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) became a rallying cry against terrorism and against those who would silence the freedom of speech on which the French nation prides itself. And then that message expanded to “Je Suis Ahmed,” created by Muslims who had been offended by Charlie Hebdo and preferred to identify themselves with Ahmed Merabet, the police officer whose cold-blooded murder, captured on a smartphone, was broadcast to the world. Officer Merabet was a Muslim. That fellow Muslims should kill him while he defended those who may have offended his religious sensibilities was not lost on the world, and Officer Merabet was praised for the hero he was.
One must not confuse extremists with Muslims. Madness has neither color nor religion.
The next day, a lone gunman attacked a Jewish supermarket and four men were killed. During the siege, employee Lassana Bathily, a young immigrant from Mali, West Africa, unplugged the walk-in freezer and hid several customers inside. He then escaped and assisted the police. Lassana Bathily is a Muslim. He worked with Jews, befriended Jews, and, ultimately, saved Jews from a fellow Muslim.
This past weekend, the French held a unity march, attended by so many people that the government stopped counting at three million. Leaders from all over the world came together in a show of solidarity. Imams and rabbis appeared together. Muslims and Jews walked together. They proclaimed to the world and specifically to the terrorists that they were not afraid; that those who wished to quell their freedom of speech, those who tried to divide them, had failed. Over and over again, Muslims expressed their horror and grief that their faith had been hijacked in this manner. As Malek Merabet said in his eulogy, “My brother was a Muslim. He was killed by people who pretend to be Muslims. I address myself now to all the racists, Islamophobes, and anti-Semites: One must not confuse extremists with Muslims. Madness has neither color nor religion. I want to make another point: stop painting everybody with the same brush, stop burning mosques or synagogues. You are attacking people. It won't bring back our dead, and it won't appease our families.”
Human nature being what it is, the unity of the French people will last for a while, but it will probably fade as the months go by. Muslim groups in France are already reporting reprisals against them. In Germany, anti-Muslim marches have taken place; despite the presence of Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris. Clearly, there are factions who do not want peace, so the question for the future is: how to live together? Is it even possible? Our friend, Banafsheh Akhlaghi, did a TED talk on the realization of peace. Whether or not it can be achieved is, of course, unknown.
Ahmed Merabet and Lassana Bathily are names that we must remember. They were heroes for risking their lives, but they were also heroic in who they chose to defend. By their actions, they showed the world the fallacy of judging a culture or a religion by the actions of a misguided few. When we set aside generalizations and preconceived notions and prejudice, we see each other for who we really are. Maybe that’s where peace starts.
Ahmed Merabet and Lassana Bathily. We need to remember their names.