Forty world leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, marched with more than 700,000 Frenchman to remember the victims of the terrorist attacks on the newspaper Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish grocery store and “rise up” against Islamic extremism.
Incredibly, included in this list of august personages is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who serves as chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization — one of the most notorious terrorist groups in the world.
I thought it was a sick joke until I watched coverage of the march and there he was, grinning like a cat, marching in the first row.
Chanting “Charlie! Charlie!” in memory of the journalists gunned down at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine on Wednesday, the crowd was was expected to exceed a million people.
British prime minister David Cameron, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu are among more than 40 world leaders who linked arms as they led the march to loud applause from the massive crowd.
Speaking at the march, Mr Cameron said extremist violence would remain a threat for many years to come.
“We in Britain face a very similar threat, a threat of fanatical extremism,” he said.
“It’s a threat that has been with us for many years.”
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi vowed that Europe would “win the challenge against terrorism”, as he left the French presidents residence in Paris to join the march.
“We are all French today,” he said.
In a statement, French president Francois Hollande said: “Paris is today the capital of the world. Our entire country will rise up and show its best side.”
Seventeen people, including journalists and policemen, lost their lives in three days of violence that began with a shooting attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday and ended with a hostage-taking at a kosher supermarket on Friday. The three gunmen were also killed.
The silent march through the centre of Paris, in honour of the victims of the worst terror attacks in the city for 50 years, was arranged shortly after the attacks. Senate president Stephen Parry will represent Australia at the march.
“Paris will be the world capital of resistance against terrorism and of the defence of freedom, it will really be the world march for freedom,” French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said on television on Sunday.
French prime minister Manuel Valls encouraged Parisians to attend the march.
“It will be an unprecedented manifestation that will be written in the history books,” he said.
“It must show the power and dignity of the French people, who will cry out their love of liberty and tolerance.”
Those who cry out for “liberty and tolerance” in times like these are probably going to end up with neither. Harder measures than feel-good rallies will be necessary to defeat the terrorists and protect civilians from their outrages.
The presence of Abbas, as well as other heads of state from repressive governments who marched while the crowd chanted “Charlie! Charlie!” in support of free speech, showed a massive hypocrisy. An anti-terror rally with Abbas an invited guest? An anti-Islamic extremist rally with the Qatari Sheikh Mohamed Ben Hamad Ben Khalifa Al Thani, whose government funds terrorists in Syria? A march to support free speech that included Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, whose government cracked down on the media following a 2013 coup?
And specifically, what measures are these governments going to take? At least the French aren’t shy about calling the terrorism, that must be fought, by its name: Islamic extremism. It would be a good start if all western leaders would adopt a similar posture — including our president, who found himself too busy to attend the rally.
It does no good to condemn terrorism and in the same breath hastily add that not all Muslims are terrorists. We know that. It’s a superfluous utterance that only serves to soften the rhetoric. Those who hate Islam are not going to be convinced otherwise by using weasel words when describing the war we are fighting. Far better to accurately identify and call out the terrorists and other radicals who support them.