Police estimate between 800 to a thousand people assembled in front the European Parliament on Wednesday, between 6.30pm and 9pm. It was an event organized over social media. This assembly is a response to the attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris that morning. The atmosphere was one of remembrance. A show of defiance was made through a round of applause. “I’m shocked and speechless”, says Lily, 28, a French woman who works in the Youth literature centre (Maison de la littérature de jeunesse). “We don’t want people just lashing out. It’s seeing all the reactions full of hate over the internet that made me log off and come here”, adds Kevin, 29, a French visual artist.
A group of French housemates has drawn a caricature called “Des trous de balle les ont tués” (Bullet holes killed them). One of them, Alexandra, 31, says “respected figures of the French press, who never stopped fighting, who were sincere and spontaneous, are gone”. Stéphane, 31, a French speech therapist, said the journalists had apologized for several caricatures: “The Freedom attacked today is, even if it can be violent in some ways, based only on expression. It doesn’t threaten people’s lives. I can understand that people are shocked by certain drawings, but that doesn’t justify the violence of today’s act”.
The Belgian Left was strongly represented at this assembly, and the first in front of the French embassy. “Freedom of speech has been attacked at its heart. They took those who lived as the most free do, with their pencils and drawings they refused to censure”, said the Brussels Ecolo MP Isabelle Durant. “The shock is terrible. There weren’t that many casualties, but they hit a particularly powerful symbol”. Olivier Deleuze, co-president of the Green party, defends the democratic right to criticize any system. “We must defend our fundamental right to mock the system, or an ideology. Making people laugh using religions, prophets, and Popes is a right”.
Karine Lalleux, federal MP (Socialist party), warned against excessive security measures: “Of course, we need to take the necessary precautions, but we cannot give into fear because they try to divide, stigmatize and destroy harmony. We cannot turn places of democracy and Freedom of speech into bunkers”.
Finally, Michäel Verbauwhede, Brussels PTB MP, defends the Freedom of opinion. “Voltaire said “I do not agree with your ideas, but I will fight to the end for your right to express them”. The journalists criticized religions with pencils, but they responded with guns. In reaction to the hate shown by the perpetrators of this terrorist act, hateful things are being said about them. We don’t need more Le Pens and Zemmours. Today’s barbarity shows the failure of dividing and discriminatory policies.”