St. Louisans Show Solidarity With France, Hold Vigil For Slain Cartoonists
Updated Sunday at 7:51 p.m. with more detail from the attacks in France.
Despite the cold and rain, about a hundred people gathered in front of Laclede statue in downtown St. Louis Sunday to remember the victims of a suspected terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Twelve people died in the attack Wednesday in Paris. On Friday, France held its breath once more as 5 more died in hostage situations at a print shop and a Jewish grocery store. Three gunmen involved in the two attacks also died Friday.
Vigils and rallies were held around the world Sunday, including a march attended by hundreds of thousands in Paris.
Many of the people who came to the St. Louis vigil have ties to France, including people born and raised in France, French teachers, and people who have previously lived there.
Tanya Fox and her husband Frank Fox, for example, lived in Paris for a year while Frank studied to be a sommelier at Le Cordon Bleu.
“We’re standing in solidarity with our friends that are in France, and for obviously, freedom of speech and expression,” said Tanya Fox. “Hopefully it does create unity in the world. And (we’re) standing up again the terror.”
Webster University French professor Lionel Cuille said the vigil was organized somewhat organically, out of a conversation between St. Louis Francophiles on Facebook.
“The important thing is that, of course, we are not here to endorse the philosophy of Charlie Hebdo, but to commemorate the victims of the carnage. And I think what also brings us together is the importance of the freedom of speech and the French value of liberté, fraternité, égalaté,”Cuille said.
“Liberty, equality, fraternity” is the national motto of France, and originated with the French Revolution.
French teacher Barbie Snitzer held two signs at the vigil. One read “Je Suis Charlie,” –the now famous phrase meaning “I am Charlie.” The other read : “Je Suis Juif,” or “I am Jewish.”
“We (Americans) don’t really have an equivalent to Charlie Hebdo because we don’t really revere cartoonists the same way….Our society would not accept the level of humor that they had,” Snitzer said.
But, Snitzer added, Americans do look to comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to tell the truth.
Habiba Kasper, who moved to St. Louis when her husband retired from the Air Force, said she came to the vigil in support of her country of birth.
“I’m here to support France because I was born and raised in France. But my parents are from North Africa, of Muslim religion, and I want to support the real Muslims. Not those who call themselves Muslims but are not,” Kasper said.
Charlie Hebdo has received threats for years due to its content. The magazine’s office was bombed in 2011 after it published an irreverent cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. An eyewitness video of the gunmen in Wednesday’s attack recorded one man saying "We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad."
Most of the vigil was an informal gathering of quiet conversation, but after about 20 minutes, Webster professor Lionel Cuille and Saint Louis University professor Jean Louis Pautrot said a few words in French and English to summarize the purpose of the vigil: solidarity with France and a stand for freedom of expression.
Pautrot called for a minute of silence in remembrance of the victims at Charlie Hebdo. And then, apart from rain drops landing on umbrellas, quiet descended.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.