A diverse crowd of more than 150 people gathered on Sunday in Beirut's downtown Samir Kassir Square in solidarity with the massive march in Paris after last week's terror attacks, with the Lebanese raising pens and toting “Je suis Charlie” signs.
There were also signs saying “Je suis Ahmet,” a reference to the Muslim policeman killed in the series of attacks last week. Other signs said, “No Hezbollah, No ISIS, No Terrorism, Yes freedom” and in Arabic, “I am Charlie and Gebran and Samir,” the square’s namesake columnist and his editor Gebran Tueni, both journalists killed by car bombs here in 2005.
“We tend to forget there is not just Charlie – there is Gebran and Samir, people who died to express their thoughts,” said Michele Laugel, 23, an unemployed writer holding the Arabic sign who said she came to the gathering because she is half French and feels strongly about freedom of expression.
“It just really is disturbing that this could happen in the [French] capital – no one is safe,” Laugel said.
Her friend Paul Sukkar, 21, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison visiting his native Beirut for the holidays, said he hopes people in the United States see the outpouring of support not just in Europe, but also in the Middle East.
“This is the image people need to see – those dedicated to life, to freedom of speech. Diversity is really what enriches this country. If we lose that, we lose everything,” Sukkar said.
Nearby, 8-year-old Fairouz Cabirou held a handmade “Je suis Charlie” sign aloft as she sat on her father’s shoulders.
Her father is a Christian from southern France, her mother Muslim from Lebanon. After following news of the attacks this week, the family of four drove in from the suburbs for the gathering.
“It was a way to do something in a moment when you don’t know what to do,” said her father, Patrice Cabirou, 41, a high school history teacher, adding that he felt the crowd was defending the French principles of liberty, equality and brotherhood.
Christophe Torbey, 14, a French-speaking Lebanese Christian holding a “Liberte D’Expression” sign, said he hopes the attacks do not lead to a backlash against Muslims in Europe.
“We can’t turn on the Muslims," he said in French. "The jihadis are a small minority.”
The nonpartisan gathering organized by the Samir Kassim Foundation lasted several hours, with a spokesman saying that more than 1,350 people had promised to attend online.
“It was important to say that terror knows no borders. We needed to say that here, that it’s not just France,” said spokesman Ayman Mhanna, adding that, “This region in particular, the Middle East, needs to be vocal in condemning these killings. There is no justification.”
He said the gathering was also a reminder of the struggle for free speech in the Middle East that preceded the Paris attacks.
“You have representatives of Egypt, Turkey, [Persian] Gulf countries and Israel marching in Paris today, which is ironic because they are enemies of freedom of expression at home,” he said.
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