Last night a vigil was held in Birmingham City Centre for the 12 victims of the Charlie Hebdo Massacre.
The peaceful event started at 7:30pm with people gathered around the stairs in Victoria Square, lighting candles in respect for the murders of the cartoonists and police in the Charlie Hebdo office. The crowd of an estimated 700 people then marched in solidarity from Victoria Square to the Library of Birmingham. The atmosphere was sombre but there appeared to be a sense of unity amongst everyone involved.
Charlie Hebdo is a french satirical newspaper featuring cartoons, jokes and reports that are controversial and nonconformist in tone. Editor and Cartoonist Stéphane Charbonnier was one of the victims of an attack that took place on 7th January 2015, where two masked gunmen stormed into the building and killed 12 people. After publishing an edition of the newspaper that mocked the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, Charbonnier was placed on Al-Qaeda’s most wanted list in 2013. Yesterday morning during an editorial meeting Charbonnier, nine of his colleagues and one of his bodyguards were ruthlessly murdered when armed extremists forced their way into the Charlie Hebdo office. During an interview in 2012 Stéphane Charbonnier had said, “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.”
The vigil was organised by a 21 year old french student, Zoe Pelletier who described the shooting as a tragedy. The student who studies Criminology at Birmingham City University had arranged the event the evening before and said she was surprised at the positive response from both the media and those who live in the area. Victoria Square quickly filled up with people lighting candles and holding “Je Suis Charlie” signs in commemoration for the lives that were taken yesterday. Zoe said,
‘Je Suis Charlie’ means that we all support this magazine. It’s a controversial newspaper and not everyone likes what they say but they’re not hurting anybody.”
“Je Suis Charlie” means we all unite. Those that were cruelly murdered were fathers, mothers, husbands and wives. They were brothers and sisters. They were aunts and uncles. In the repercussions of this horrific ordeal it is imperative that we all stand in unity. It is essential that we do not vilify the religion of Islam in this. Throughout this the media will continue to paint Muslims with the same brush, branding them terrorists which is unacceptable and ironic. Muslim activist Iyad El-Baghdadi tweeted,
“As a Muslim, killing innocent people in the name of Islam is much, much more offensive to me than any cartoon can ever be. #CharlieHebdo.”
“Je Suis Charlie” means we have freedom of speech and belief. When we assume all Muslims are extremists and berate their religion we are doing the exact opposite. “Je Suis Charlie” means that everyone, no matter their background, race or religion will all stand in unity for freedom of speech and expression and remember those who lost their lives fighting for it.
Photography by; Coral Luck, Gurchetan Singh Sahota & Martin Palmer.