- Courtesy of Nicolas Demorand
- This is the cartoon the staff of Charlie Hebdo left for French editor Nicolas Demorand, who offered them refuge at his newspaper after their office was firebombed in 2011. Demorand explains about the thank-you note: "[This] is a cartoon for Charlie's party when they left Libération. The cartoon says: 'We'll go burn somewhere else! Thank you for having us.'" It also features one of the Charlie Hebdo staffers finding a box of alcohol and approvingly comparing its strength to that of a Molotov cocktail.
On the evening of Wednesday's terrorist attack on French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, thousands of French citizens held demonstrations in major cities all across the country. Nicolas Demorand, former editor-in-chief of the leftist French newspaper Libération, founded by Jean-Paul Sartre, had spent the day in tears. The 43-year-old journalist said he has seen plenty of misery, but it was unlike him to cry.
Some of the 12 people murdered were Demorand’s dear friends. In 2011, when the offices of Charlie Hebdo were firebombed with a Molotov cocktail, Demorand invited the cartoonists to use his facilities. For the next few months, the two editorial staffs worked together.
Two years later, Libération survived a shooting of its own. A gunman entered the newspaper lobby and shot a photographer's assistant in the chest. The assistant survived, but the attack left the staff "traumatized," Demorand said at the time.
At around 11 p.m. Paris-time Wednesday, The Stranger spoke to Demorand about how he was processing the events that day, what it feels like in France right now, and what political reactions he fears will almost certainly follow.
How are you feeling right now?
I lost friends. When I was editor-in-chief of Libération, Charlie Hebdo had been targeted in a first attack. So I invited them [to] Libération in order for them to be able to publish another issue of Charlie Hebdo. Incredibly kind guys. All those guys—the guys who had been murdered today—they were funny. They were always laughing about all that fucking mess. And they had bottles of wine. They were amazing drinkers. And they took their pens, they took sheets of paper, and they drew.
What kind of lessons did you take away from your time giving refuge to Charlie Hebdo, and how would you apply them to today?
You know, in a newsroom, you're joking, doing your job, doing your everyday job. Charb [Charlie Hebdo editorial director Stéphane Charbonnier], who was killed today, was under police protection. It was a really strange moment. A newspaper isn't a military place. We had policemen in the newsroom during that time. In the first few hours we were quite scared. But after that it was really normal life. Everybody was laughing. These guys were the kindest guys. They were really teenagers. Even if they were 70 or 80 years old. They were teens. They were happy to live. They were just doing funny stuff. And it's horrible to think that they have all been killed today. You know, I'm 43. I cried like a child all day long. It was a horrible day. A horrible day in Paris. Horrible day.
Americans don't really have the same connection to cartoonists as the French do to the people who worked at Charlie Hebdo. What role does Charlie Hebdo play in French society?
In France, Charlie Hebdo was sort of a good friend. You don't necessarily buy Charlie Hebdo once a week. But you're glad. You're proud that such a newspaper can exist in France. That such guys, such kind guys, do the job. The job serious newspapers don’t do anymore. They were brave. And they are dead.
The Stranger is also a progressive, leftist newspaper. And this morning we met for an editorial meeting, and we were tangling with the question of how to approach a tragedy that was certain to get even more politicized. You've lived through this. How can journalists condemn this violence and grieve without being sucked into a reignited political debate about terrorism?
That's the tricky issue. I was glad to see hundreds of thousands of people in Paris, Lyon, all the great cities in France tonight. Just, everybody was in the streets in big cities in France just to say, "We're here." I hope, I hope. I hope. I don’t believe, but I hope that this awful moment will have a virtue. And let us be together. That’s the first thing in France tonight. Everybody was together in Place de la République in Paris, in Lyon, in Nîmes, everywhere in France. Even people who didn’t read Charlie Hebdo. Even people who didn’t buy Charlie Hebdo. Even people who were against Charlie Hebdo were in the streets tonight in the major cities. Today the country is really messed up. It’s a deep crisis for the country. The Muslim issue is really, really, really, really difficult. So I hope that this attack will produce what it has already produced, people saying, "We are Charlie Hebdo." I hope they are not dead for [nothing]. But I’m afraid because we have extremely hard right-wing parties and it's flammable. I don’t want to be pessimistic, but it's really strange in France today.
- Courtesy of Nicolas Demorand
- Demorand explains: "When I invited Charlie Hebdo to come to Libé, I was wearing an ugly Adidas sweater. Cabu writes: 'Thank you Nicolas Demorand for having us at Libération.' And made me say: 'If you want, you can use our gym!'"
The United States went and invaded two countries after 9/11.
Everyone here is thinking about the Patriot Act and all the stuff after 9/11. In France we have a long history with terrorism. We mustn't follow the same way that the United States did a few years ago. And that’s what terrorism is about. It’s an attack against democracy. So you can become mad and insane and have a Patriot Act and so on, or you can have the French way, which is try to fight against terror, but in a democratic way.
France has struggled with integrating North Africans and its Muslim population for a very long time. There's a lot of economic and social inequality. Do you have any sense of what might motivate people to carry out this kind of violence against French journalists?
It's really difficult. The main issue, the main social issue, political issue, the question of suburbs, of discrimination, and so on, that’s a huge problem. [Eds: French suburbs, unlike American suburbs, are considered economically disadvantaged and sometimes violent neighborhoods, and many have large Muslim populations.] And besides that problem, there is another problem. What can you do when one guy goes to Syria, then comes back in France? It’s a huge problem and it’s an individual problem. We know that there’s a huge problem with our suburbs. We know that, and we see on the other hand guys becoming crazy and taking guns and going in a newspaper to kill everybody. You are French even if you are a Jew, even if you are a Muslim, even if you are a Christian. First of all, you are French. That's the base of what France is about. You say, "France isn't able anymore to integrate all of the sons, all of the daughters, all of the people." And you say, "Wow. What's going wrong here?" It’s really a deep interrogation about what we are, what the country is, why the country went wrong in a certain time. I lost dear friends. I worked with those guys. I kissed those guys. They were the kindest guys of all. The medics here in France said that they had to tackle war wounds. You want to cry. You want to scream. It’s really weird.
Is there anything you’d add about the people whose lives were lost today, your friends?
Cabu [Jean Cabut] is a great French cartoonist. Cabu was the kindest guy on earth. He was nearly 80 years old. He hated soldiers. He hated all kinds of ideology. He hated religions—all of them! He was the kindest guy on earth. He was, you know, the kind of guy you want to just hug in your arms. He never even laughed even if his drawings were really, really funny. He never yelled. And, you know, killing them is… [sighs] I don’t know how to say it. Killing them is absolutely awful. They just wanted all the French citizens to laugh once a week in their newspaper. They were naughty, bad kids. Some of them were deaf. They couldn’t hear because they were too old. They were grandpas drawing each week. There were guys who weren’t on the same [political] basis as them? Yeah, okay! Let's discuss. Let's sit down at the table and just exchange. Let's talk! We're human brothers, you know? It's the same mankind! We're all brothers. You can't know how horrible for us it is in France. You know, Cabu. When I was a kid, my father read Cabu au Canard Enchaîné. My father read Charlie Hebdo. I've known Cabu since I was a kid. And he was a kid. He was a teenager. He was an 80-year-old teenager. He was cool, he was nice, he was so brilliant. It's awful. It's so awful. I'm devastated.
You know, I cried all day long. I never cry. You know, we're journalists. We know about shit, about sadness, about horror, about misery, about terror, about all that shit. We know about that. I cried all day long, you know. They killed the best guys. They killed the best guys. It's horrible. It's really horrible. I'm sorry for my poor English…
Your English is great.
These guys, you wanted them to be your son, you wanted them to be your father, you know, idealistic guys from 1968. They thought it was great to fight for liberty, for freedom, for freedom of speech, for freedom of laughing at everything, freedom of being politically incorrect, freedom of just being free.