I was part of the audience gathered last night at McCosh auditorium attending the lecture: “The Charlie Hebdo Terrorist Attacks: Freedom of Speech in the Age of Radicalism.” Like many, I had been anticipating to hear Mario Vargas Llosa and Philippe Lançon’s for months.
After last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris, this lecture’s relevance had become unprecedented. Philip Laçon was the only survivor of the terrorist attacks at Charlie Hebdo and this was his first public lecture since the attack in January 2015. He didn’t refrain to share horrific details he lived. I confess part of me refused to take in his fresh memories. His account of events mingled in my mind’s eye with televised images of last Friday’s attacks in Paris.“Allahu Akbar”. One bullet. “Allahu Akbar”. Another bullet. “Allahu Akbar”. It keeps going. This happened in Paris in January. No. This happened in Paris last week.
Laçon’s vivid descriptions and subsequent reflections were meandered by the words’s of Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. He gave a passionate speech on freedom of expression and censorship, stressing the destruction of civilization as the most dangerous consequence of terrorism, and calling all to resist the temptation to sacrifice freedom in order to stop acts of terrorism.
Of all the details Philippe Lançon shared of that January morning I’ve created a selective memory. In it, I only keep the very last moments he spent with his friend, the 76-year-old cartoonist Cabu. Philippe is showing a photography book to Cabu. It is a book about the famous Jazz club, Blue Note. All photographs taken by the owner and founder of the club, Francis Wolff. Black and white photos of an eternal New York. Cabu loves Jazz, and to sketch about it. I envision Cabu’s laughs, glossy pages and comments flipping through the air. There is even Miles Davis and Coltrane playing in the background. But of course, this is only in my mind. Right after this, two terrorists walked into the room.
The lecture “The Charlie Hebdo Terrorist Attacks: Freedom of Speech in the Age of Radicalism.” was hosted by the Program in Latin American studies at Princeton University and moderated by Rubén Gallo, Director of PLAS, on November 19th, 2015.
You can read Phillipe Lacon’s personal account of the events written three weeks after the attacks at http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2015/jan/21/my-charlie-hebdo/