In the street leading to the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris, people trickle in steadily to pay tributes. The mound of flowers grows against the barricade put up by the police to block the scene of crime on Wednesday, 12 people were shot dead in an attack on the office of the satirical magazine by three armed men wearing black masks and hoodies.
When a prominent Imam arrives on the spot, there is a scrum of reporters. There is loud cheering for every statement he makes condemning the killers. Hassen Chalghoumi, the French Imam of a Parisian suburb called Drancy, speaking in Urdu to NDTV says, "These are not Muslims. These are enemies of Islam. They don't value human life. Murder is not Islam."
France is reeling under the shock of the gruesome attack on Charlie Hebdo. People have shown a certain sense of defiance in their grief. Thousands have been coming out into streets and squares to express their outrage for what they see as a direct assault on the freedom of expression. But could this fervor be drowning certain difficult questions related to how France treats some of its own citizens? Laicite or French secularism is rooted in anti-clerical sentiments and is also used often as a stick to beat citizens of immigrant, mostly of Muslim origin.
Some insist that if France really cares for liberty of expression, it should allow space not just to those who are anti-clerical but also to those who are religious. Practicing Muslims and people of Muslim culture face discrimination in France and the Charlie Hebdo killings could add to their stigmatisation. Since the attack on Wednesday, a series of mosques were targeted in different parts; nobody was injured.
This would perhaps be a good time to remember that the condemnation of the killings and the support for freedom of expression are views that are not held exclusively by non-Muslim French citizens.
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