Ian Curtis ’12 found himself in Paris on holiday during the shootings at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. He previously had lived in the city to teach at L’Ecole Estienne — an art school where the cartoonist Cabu, who died in the attack, studied — though he had returned to the U.S. in September to pursue his doctorate in French at Yale.
“Like Cabu, many of my students in Paris were illustrators,” Curtis said. “I admired their often irreverent work.”
Despite his connections, his feeling about the attacks — and the public discourse following them — was complicated.
“I hesitate to claim that I also am Charlie,” Curtis said, referring to the slogan “Je suis Charlie” that became popular following the shootings. “I worry that pronouncing such an ‘I’ or ‘we’ (many posters in my Paris district — Charlie Hebdo’s district — read ‘Nous sommes Charlie’) risks alienating as many as it unites.
“An us can imply a them.”
Here on the Hill, faculty and students explored similar feelings on the complicated aftermath of the attacks at a roundtable discussion in Peirce lounge organized by Pierre Dairon, assistant professor of French, and Mort Guiney, professor of French. “We’re not here to rally people around a cause,” emphasized Guiney. “We just want to fill in some blanks that people have.”
To a packed room, Guiney gave a brief history of caricature and satire in France, and Dairon showed some of the cartoons from Charlie Hebdo, giving interpretations and explanations. When they opened the floor for discussion, attendees brought up opinions of whether the newspaper had moved from satirical to racist, if the attacks would lead to more support for the far-right politics of France, and if French nationalism could be reconciled with Islam. On a broader level, the group discussed why there was so much global attention to the 17 killed in France and much less to the 2,000 killed by Boko Haram in Nigeria the same week or the 149 killed in Pakistan late last year, and how simple comparisons of the Paris attacks to 9/11 obscure other issues.
On one level, the events in Paris are simple to comprehend and oppose, Guiney said. But a deeper understanding of all sides is critical. “We have to get beyond the reflex that ‘terrorists are crazy. They have to be stopped,’ ” he said. “What I think would be great for college students — for everybody — is to promote a way of viewing these kinds of events using the tools we teach in colleges to contextualize it.”
Dairon said he doesn’t often wish he still lived in France, but on Jan. 11, the day four million marched in peaceful protest to the site of the shootings, he wished he could be there. “It is not because I support Charlie,” he said, acknowledging the situation’s deep complexity. “But because I saw possibility.”