Following the attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead Wednesday in Paris, Twitter users around the world showed their solidarity using the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie, or “I am Charlie.” As of this writing, the hashtag has been used 3.7 million times.
But as events quickly unfolded on the ground, #JeSuisCharlie just as quickly developed alternate versions that lay bare the complex identity politics surrounding the Paris attacks.
When the world learned that the policeman mercilessly killed by the gunmen who claimed to be avenging Prophet Muhammad was also Muslim, thousands of people starting tweeting #JeSuisAhmed, or “I am Ahmed.” The tweets announced that a tragedy centered on a publication that ridiculed Islam also had its Muslim hero.
That point was made especially poignant when confronted with another hashtag campaign, one infused with hatred. #KillAllMuslims was included in thousands of tweets following Wednesday’s events.
On Friday, the tense drama lurched into twin hostage situations, one of them at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris. Police ordered Jewish stores in a tourist-filled neighborhood in central Paris to close their doors. The Grand Synagogue in Paris was also closed ahead of Sabbath evening on Friday. By day’s end, both sieges ended, with three attackers and four hostages dead.
The market attack came as the Jewish community in France sees its numbers rapidly dwindling. Growing concern over perceived anti-Semitism is reportedly a factor. In 2013, 3,288 Jews left France for Israel, a 72% increase over 2012, according to The New York Times (paywall).
Exactly one week before Wednesday’s attack, French president Francois Hollande said in his New Year’s Eve address that his priority for 2015 would be a fight against racism and anti-Semitism, pointed out Emily Greenhouse at Bloomberg. “Both forms of bigotry are swelling in France, not quite mirror images, but related in complex ways,” she writes. The attack, Greenhouse adds, “has the potential to be a decisive moment of cultural inflection for France, and perhaps for all of Europe, on the level of 9/11 for the United States.”
A number of users saw dangerous echoes of the past in Friday’s incident.