Wednesday’s barbaric attack on the journalists and staff of Charlie Hebdo, as well as on policemen guarding them, shocked and saddened the entire world. As we pause to mourn the loss of life, I am reminded of how the people of France showed their support to us in the aftermath of 9/11. On that day, Americans were in a state of shock as we tried to come to grips with the terrible loss and our own grief and a growing sense that our world would be different from that moment on. I remember seeing Le Monde’s headline that day, “We are all Americans,” and how much those words meant to me as an American, a New Yorker and a friend of France.
Just as we did on Sept. 12, 2001, today more than ever we stand shoulder to shoulder with the French people in rejecting extremism and intolerance, defending our shared values and working to produce a more just, secure and peaceful world.
From our inception, the United States has shared with France an abiding belief that freedom of expression is not the window dressing of democracy but rather a universal right and a fundamental value, along with freedom of religion, that defines who we are. Americans stand in solidarity with the victims of this senseless attack, their families and the people of France. Today we are all Charlie Hebdo.
Even as we mourn, this attack should not weaken our resolve. As Americans, we share the outrage felt by our French friends and allies at this massacre. We know all too well what it means to be targeted for who we are and what we stand for.
This attack was, of course, not just a brutal assault on brave men and women, but an attack on one of the freedoms we both hold most dear: freedom of expression and of the media. Many of the thousands of protesters who came out in the cold in Paris, Madrid, London, New York and elsewhere to express their solidarity held up pens as a potent symbol of that fundamental value. In gathering by candlelight in the winter night, they proudly stood up to defend the right of artists, newspapers and magazines — indeed, all citizens — in a free society to say what they wish, to provoke debate and, yes, to be insolent.
Secretary of State John Kerry articulated American sentiment best when he proclaimed: “Today’s murders are part of a larger confrontation, not between civilizations — no — but between civilization itself and those who are opposed to a civilized world... What these people who do these things don’t understand is that they will only strengthen the commitment to that freedom and our commitment to a civilized world.”
I have made it my goal as the U.S. ambassador to France to work closely with all sectors of French society to promote our common values, spur economic prosperity and strengthen the historic partnership and friendship we have enjoyed for 240 years. We have offered France all the assistance we can provide in bringing the perpetrators to justice, and we will continue to join our French brothers and sisters in the fight to eradicate extremism and terrorism, no matter their source. The struggle will be long, but our two nations are making important progress, from halting the Islamic State’s advance to adopting the first binding U.N. Security Council resolution on foreign terrorist fighters.
As President François Hollande said in his address Wednesday night, the best response to this heinous attack on our freedoms and values is to come together and demonstrate, in word and deed, our unity and our solidarity. This is true not only for France but for the entire international community. The United States will do its part.
Recognizing the unshakable bond our two countries share, President Barack Obama took the unusual step Wednesday of inviting the press into the Oval Office, where he condemned the attack. He also, however, expressed the optimistic sentiment that my countrymen and I share, declaring: “France, and the great city of Paris where this outrageous attack took place, offer the world a timeless example that will endure well beyond the hateful vision of these killers.” In that spirit, let us go forward together, undeterred in our determination to defeat extremism and stand up proudly for the liberties and universal rights that France exemplifies for the world.
Jane Hartley is the U.S. ambassador to France and Monaco.