Remember Charlie Hebdo, the underfunded, irreverent and often sacrilegious French magazine whose offices were attacked in Paris two years ago?
At the time, the Jan. 7, 2015, attack, which killed 12 people, most of them staff members, was considered an affront to Western values. French President Francois Hollande was joined by world leaders in a celebrated march through Paris as many mourners wore buttons that said “Je Suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie.”
That spirit of defiance and confidence seems so quaint now in the wake of larger, more violent attacks, such as those that killed 130 people on Nov. 13, 2015, at a series of restaurants and a nightclub in Paris.
The world’s collective terrorism fatigue in the last two years does not lessen the impact of Darling, I’m Going to Charlie (Atria/37 Ink, 144 pp., ***½ out of four stars), Maryse Wolinski’s poignant memoir of the murders, which took the life of her husband of 47 years, cartoonist Georges Wolinski. (“Darling, I’m Going to Charlie” were the last words Georges said to his wife the morning of the attack.) Like the thousands who marched through the streets of Paris in the days after the terror, her defiance has not abated.
“The impudent pens of the press became the targets of religious fundamentalists,” Wolinski writes. “They tried to kill the laughter, that powerful force of opposition. But as my daughter Elsa wrote in a letter to her father, published in Elle magazine, ‘They killed the man but not the ideas.’ They killed all that talent, but their ideas will continue to spread.”
Wolinski shows that the deadly raid on the magazine’s offices should have come as a surprise to no one. Charlie Hebdo‘s staff delighted in tweaking the rich, powerful and devoutly religious, taking particular aim at Islam and its radical adherents. As a result, its earlier offices were targeted, and French police were detailed to guard the staff.
Eventually, the police and their union complained. “According to union representatives, this was due to a growing number of protections dubbed ‘bogus protections,’ which had often been arranged without the prior agreement of the antiterrorist unit, which was a procedural prerequisite.”
That’s why no police surveillance van sat outside the front of the magazine’s offices when the two masked assailants stormed in and shot much of the staff.
Wolinski rightfully criticizes the blasé attitude of some of the police charged with protecting the magazine and other French citizens. Her personal grief, so evident throughout this short volume, does not overwhelm her clear-eyed critique of the problems with her nation’s government and others when it comes to protecting citizens and their rights of free expression.
Fighting terrorism, as we’ve seen through successive presidential administrations and the new Trump administration, is a difficult business fraught with potential limits on personal liberties and religious freedoms. Too often, the best intentions collide with political and economic realities. It’s easier to claim action than to act meaningfully.
In Darling, I’m Going to Charlie, Wolinski sees through her tears to provide a deeper truth, that we must embrace our liberties and humanity while we fight against those who want to take our freedoms away.