PARIS — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are among the nearly 50 political figures who participated in France’s unity march staged Sunday in Paris. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in India, and President Barack Obama did not attend.
Almost 3 million people peacefully demonstrated in Paris. Some were singing the National Anthem, the Marseillaise, others were shouting “I am Charlie,” “I am a Jew” and “I am a cop” to pay homage to the 17 people killed in the two terrorist attacks that hit satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes this week. About 3.7 million people marched across France on Sunday.
— Elsa Keslassy (@ElsaKeslassy) January 11, 2015
ARP, the French guild of authors, directors and producers headed by “The Artist” helmer Michel Hazanavicius, joined the demonstration, bringing together a large delegation of film industry figures. Among them were director Costa Gavras, singer-turned-actor Patrick Bruel, Unifrance president Jean-Paul Salome and producer Alain Attal.
The demonstration, said to be even larger than the number of people who marched when Paris was freed from the Nazis in World War II, is bringing together people from every religion, regardless of their political affiliation, as the gathering is meant to symbolize that France fights terror by strengthening its core values of freedom, fraternity and equality. Demonstrations are also being held in other cities around France. Overall nearly 3 million people have attended rallies across the country.
Gaul’s news channels, France24, BFMTV and iTele have been providing non-stop coverage of the demonstrations, including interviews with counterterrorism experts, politicians, sociologists, authors and filmmakers.
“Today, Paris is the world’s capital,” said French President Francois Hollande, who welcomed political leaders at his Elysee Palace ahead of the march.
Over 2,000 police agents have been deployed for the occasion. France remains on high alert: Hayat Boumeddiene, the suspected accomplice of Amedy Coulibaly, who killed four people at the kosher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes and a policewoman in Montrouge, is still on the run.
Earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve hosted a reunion with international ministers, notably U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in order to discuss national security measures in the aftermath of these attacks.
Several measures have already been revealed by local media reports, notably the creation of a cooperative effort between Internet companies and European governments that will allow for the detection and tracking of websites and individuals promoting hate speech and religious extremism.
The French government also addressed the rise of anti-Semitism in light of the killing of four Jews — Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen and Francois-Michel Saada — at the kosher supermarket. Roger Cukierman, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions (CRIF), told BFMTV the government was willing to guard Jewish schools and synagogues with military officials and will come up with measures to better protect Jews in France.
Hollande, Netanyahu and former president Nicolas Sarkozy are among the political figures set to attend a religious service held at the Synagogue des Victoires in homage of the 17 victims.
In Italy solidarity to the “I Am Charlie” cause is taking on political overtones. Daniela Santanche, a prominent member of Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia party, has announced she is in talks to publish an Italian edition of the French satirical weekly in Italy through her Visibilia Editore imprint. In typical Berlusconi modus operandi, the move could prove to be savvy in both political and business terms. A print run of more than 1 million copies is planned for a special “survivors edition” of Charlie Hebdo due out in France next week.
In Spain, 24 Horas, pubcaster RTVE’s the round-the-clock TV channel, dedicated continuous coverage to the Paris Unity Rally, emphasizing its numbers, the presence of Spanish politicians at the march, and the demonstration’s message of unity.
One single event drew different interpretations, however. As Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy made a TV broadcast, declaring that “at least in our experience of terrorism, the only way to combat it is to fight it without concessions” – in obvious reference to Basque terrorist group ETA — a rally in Bilbao, attended by thousands, demonstrated in favor of the regrouping of ETA prisoners in the Basque Country. Meanwhile, 8, a niche Madrid region TV channel, screened movie “Yoyes,” about an ETA militant assassinated when she left its ranks, again drawing a parallel — which some will find tendentious, others not – between Islamic and ETA terrorism.
In the U.K., a heated debate has been raging in the media about whether to show images of the prophet Mohammed, which was one of the main issues that led to the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
The BBC, for example, had previously banned the representation of Muhammad “in any shape or form,” but it has now revealed that it has revised its guidelines.
In a statement Friday, the BBC said “program-makers have freedom to exercise their editorial judgement with the editorial policy team available to provide advice around sensitive issues on a case-by-case basis.”
The revision of the guidelines came to light when the 10 P.M. news show on BBC One showed a Charlie Hebdo cover featuring a cartoon of Muhammad.
However, few other U.K. news outlets have republished the cartoons, and this decision has been branded as cowardice by some, hypocritical by others, and as an example of enlightened sensitivity by the news outlets themselves.
Dominic Lawson, a former editor of the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, observed in his column in the Sunday Times that “almost none of those expressing solidarity with Charlie Hebdo are willing to put their own lives (or those of their colleagues) on the line in the cause of religious satire.”
The Observer newspaper tried to be even-handed in its leader column.
On the one hand, it condemned the Charlie Hebdo killers, adding: “The ridiculing of Islam, however much resented, cannot be used to justify or explain gross acts of violence. The freedom to speak, write, draw and laugh fearlessly, without censorship and unreasonable restraint, lies at the very heart of a tolerant, democratic and inclusive society.”
On the other hand, it called for sensitivity towards minorities, and stated that freedom of speech must have its limits.
“It is not acceptable, for example, to use racist terms to describe a different ethnic group. It is not acceptable to resort to stereotypes to vilify minorities or, say, members of the opposite sex. And it is sometimes not appropriate, nor particularly funny, to deliberately provoke Muslims by publishing cartoons of the prophet that they view as blasphemous, offensive and insulting,” it stated.
Another hot-button issue that is dividing U.K. journalists is how far the security services should be allowed to eavesdrop on communications and restrict the liberty of suspects. In its leader column, the Sun on Sunday criticized liberal politicians who have blocked the extension of powers for the security services. “We have to recognize that the greatest civil liberty of all is staying alive,” it said.
The Observer was not convinced and called for caution. “Extended, intrusive internet surveillance does not necessarily bring increased security. What it does do is potentially deal a further blow to personal liberty, including the ability to speak and communicate freely and openly,” it stated.
All this comes at a time when the Brits are celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which sought to put a stop to arbitrary justice and limit the powers of the state.
Meanwhile, in Germany, a reminder was provided of how fraught the issues discussed can be when a newspaper in Hamburg that reprinted the Muhammad cartoons from Charlie Hebdo was the target of an arson attack, as reported in Variety (see link here). Two people have been detained, according to German police.
Nick Vivarelli, John Hopewell and Leo Barraclough contributed to this report.