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Paris Attack Stuns World, Free Speech Advocates


Let's get a French journalist's perspective on yesterday's shooting in Paris. The target was the magazine Charlie Hebdo. One of the news organizations covering the story is Le Monde, where Sylvie Kauffman is editorial director. Welcome to the program.

SYLVIE KAUFFMANN: Hello. Good morning.

INSKEEP: How have your colleagues in France's news media been responding to this?

KAUFFMANN: Well, obviously this has been a tremendous shock for everybody, for the public at large, certainly, and particularly for the journalists because Charlie Hebdo was not - is not just any other magazine. It's a very special magazine to the French. It's a satirical magazine. And it's really read across the board in France by people who can be on the left, on the right wing of the political spectrum - I mean, from working class, from intellectuals, from the establishment. It's a traditional irreverence and wit. It's very French, in a way. So striking at Charlie Hebdo, we have this feeling that it's also striking at the heart of the French national identity. And also...

INSKEEP: You're making a valuable point here because I think Americans get the impression that this might have been almost a marginal magazine because its attacks were so strong. But you're saying they mocked everyone, and they were enjoyed by all kinds of people.

KAUFFMANN: Yes. I mean, it was not a big circulation magazine, but its image was very, very well known. The cartoonists who were killed yesterday were very famous in France. You could see them on TV regularly. They were very, very popular figures in France. So this target has a lot of meaning for us, and of course it's also the wider target of freedom of expression. And we are all fully aware of this, particularly in the media of course.

INSKEEP: Do you feel that this attack was an attack on you, even though you edit a very famous and more conventional newspaper?

KAUFFMANN: Of course. The security measures which have been taken in front of all the media in France today shows that we all feel threatened in a way. And the government is certainly taking this seriously. But I think Charlie Hebdo was probably more of a target because of the way they handled radical Islam. You know, of course they published those caricatures almost 10 years ago, as the same time as the Danish newspaper.

But even after that, when they were threatened, they decided that they wouldn't bow; they wouldn't back down. Their editor had this now-famous sentence in an interview with Le Monde, actually. He said, I prefer to die standing than to leave on my knees. And unfortunately that's what he did. But they never stopped drawing and writing in this very dark, humorous way that they had chosen, including about Islam.

INSKEEP: You know, there has been some commentary in the media that's been critical of Charlie Hebdo for its editorial approach. I'm thinking particularly of an editorial in The Financial Times, which said that...


INSKEEP: ...Of course the attacks cannot be excused, but - I believe they used the word stupid. They said that this magazine was stupid to approach an issue like Islam the way it did.

KAUFFMANN: Well, that's their opinion. I disagree with this. I think Charlie Hebdo epitomizes the freedom of expression. I mean, you're the country of the First Amendment. You understand that. We don't have the First Amendment in France, but we have a very old history and very strong culture of freedom of expression. You know, wit and humor is a way of expression and that Charlie Hebdo pushed it to the limit probably, but that was OK with us.

INSKEEP: Is your newspaper doing anything in particular to assert that point, to assert the right to expression in the face of all of this?

KAUFFMANN: Well, we of course are carrying various editorials. We have, you know - we have this - you've heard about this slogan - Je suis Charlie, I am Charlie. We - actually the moment after September 11 published an editorial headlined "We Are All American," "Nous Sommes Tous Americains." And so we attempted today to say we are all French, nous sommes tous Francais, because this is really what it is about.

INSKEEP: If I'm not mistaken, you reported from New York and Washington after 9/11 in the United States.

KAUFFMANN: I did, yes.

INSKEEP: How does the feeling in Paris today compare with what you remember from that time?

KAUFFMANN: It is different because unfortunately it was not our first attack. I mean, even a few months ago - last year, we had these terrible, also from radical Islamist terrorists, attacks on a Jewish school in the south of France, and against members of the French Armed Forces who were killed. And so we live with this in the background.

I mean, France is at war abroad, so this threat is not something which is foreign to us. So we're in a state of shock because this attack was targeted. It's not blind terrorism. It's targeted terrorism, as was this attack against the Jewish school in Toulouse.

So what may remind me of the reaction to September 11 is the reaction of the people. Yesterday these rallies in Paris and all over France were really quite impressive, the determination shown by the people spontaneously to defend freedom of expression and freedom of the press. It seems that people suddenly are aware that this is not a given. It shouldn't be taken for granted. We have to fight for it, and we have to support. The media has been very much attacked as anywhere else and very much criticized over the past few years. And, you know, people this morning are waking up to see that the press and the media are a fundamental part of their democratic lives.

INSKEEP: Sylvie Kauffmann is editorial director and a columnist with the newspaper Le Monde in Paris. Thanks very much.

KAUFFMANN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: So many people who've responded to this tragedy include cartoonists. This may be their finest hour. The Internet is filled with drawings about the murders. And one of the simplest came from Australian David Pope. It shows a masked gunman who's just shot a cartoonist and who explains, he drew first. Countless other people around the world have shown support. They marched in London's Trafalgar Square, at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and in San Francisco. As with the cartoons, the most powerful expressions were the simplest. In the twilight in Paris last night, many gathered on the streets and held up pens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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