As up to an estimated 1 million people prepare to attend a Paris mass rally Sunday afternoon protesting this week’s Charlie Hebdo attacks, strains – in international media coverage and France’s political elite – are beginning to appear in the very broad-based unity the very march is meant to demonstrate.
About 40 world leaders will join the march, including U.K. prime minister David Cameron, German chancellor Angela Merkel, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mass demonstrations have already taken place in Paris and across France, involving hundreds of thousands of marchers Saturday.
In a rare show of unity, media worldwide stood shoulder-to-shoulder after Wednesday’s attacks, condemning the Charlie Hebdo attacks, which left 12 people dead.
“Hactivist” group Anonymous said it would shut down jihadist websites; as reported by Associated Press, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah claimed the Charlie Hebdo killers had hurt Islam more than any cartoons.
On Saturday, however, Rupert Murdoch, 21st Century Fox chairman-CEO, fired off two tweets: “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer, they must be held responsible”; “Big jihadist danger looming everywhere from Philippines to Africa to Europe to US. Political correctness makes for denial and hypocrisy.”
Frontally divergent, leading U.K. newspaper the Guardian has already taken a different stand:
“Of course there are tensions between an absolute right of free speech and the beliefs of most Muslims, including perhaps the likes of Ahmed Merabet, the policeman killed in Wednesday’s assault. But that is not the principal conflict here. The real clash is between free speech and a tiny number of jihadist murderers.”
But the Guardian itself, as well as the New York Timex and CNN, has come under bitter fire on social media for refusing to display Charlie Hebdo caricatures of Muslim prophet Muhammad.
On Saturday, French newspaper Le Monde opened with a big lead calling on people of all walks in France to a “March on Terror.”
“It is citizens – of all conditions, of all backgrounds, of all religions, of all political affinities – who must mobilize to defend the Republic,” its editorial ran.
A fat chance: Not invited to Sunday’s March, Marine Le Pen, president of France’s far-right and xenophobic National Front, has called on supporters to attend rallies, but outside the French capital.
In the media, a disparity of criteria often plays out in a battle of narratives. French security forces moved decisively Friday to abort one scenario: That two terrorists, who claimed links to Al Qaeda, Charlie Hebdo executioners Said and Cherif Kouachi, could hold at bay for many hours, if not days, France’s biggest police operation for decades — reported as involving 88,000 security operatives — and then die –- in the vein of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” coming out guns blazing.
As hundreds of thousands of people converge on Paris’ Place de la Republique, where the so-called Unity Rally begins at 3 p.m. Paris time, the large question is whether the show of solidarity will be just that, a show, before the media splits down traditional lines: between the right’s call for more security measures, and the left’s for more co-operation, intelligence initiatives and economic aid for the Muslim world.