Soon after two gunmen stormed into the offices the the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, killing 12 people, including five prominent cartoonists, Je suis Charlie (I am Charlie) was scrawled across hand-held signs at vigils and protests around the world. The Twitter hashtag #JeSuisCharlie was tweeted more than 3.4 million times in 24 hours.
Around then, another hashtag #JesuisAhmed, about the Muslim French police officer named Ahmed Merabet, who was executed by the gunmen as they fled Charlie Hebdo, started to trend.
I am not Charlie, I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so. #JesuisAhmed
— Dyab Abou Jahjah (@Aboujahjah) January 8, 2015
Jahjah has 6K followers, but his tweet has been retweeted more than 31K times.
After witnesses said the gunmen had shouted “we have avenged the prophet” as they left the scene, the horrific shooting was soon linked to Islamic extremism. In recent years, the debate on Muslims and Islamic extremism in Europe has been heating up with the rise of anti-immigration and xenophobic parties in France and across Europe. In the last three days alone, there have been several grenade and gunfire assaults on Muslim targets in France.
A widely shared mobile video that captured the last moments of the Charlie Hebdo attack, shows a policeman being gunned down as the assailants exited the newspaper's building. He was later identified as 42-year-old Ahmed Merabet. The Muslim French cop of Algerian origin was assigned to Paris’ 11th arrondissement, where Charlie Hebdo's offices are located. While on patrol, Merabat responded to reports of gunfire and arrived outside the newspaper's offices. The mobile video shows Ahmed being shot at close range in the head, while the shooter yells “God is Great” in Arabic. Later, in a statement, his police union expressed shock after watching him being “shot down like a dog”.
We saw there was a trend going on to show solidarity with Charle Hebdo, which is natural and we all should, but we also [saw a trend] to point a finger at a whole population, the Muslim population. It was provoking for me to see that the religion of the terrorist counted in that debate, but the religion of the cop that was assassinated or killed by the terrorists did not count, while both had the same religion, so [I thought] it is not about religion. For me, it is about democracy and about citizenship and I wanted to express that. And I used the old Voltaire logic to formulate it differently.
Some prominent Internet users, quickly took on the #JesuisAhmed hashtag.
US-based Haroon Moghul tweeted to his 11K followers:
#JeSuisAhmed, the policeman who died defending a magazine's right to insult his religion and culture
— haroon moghul (@hsmoghul) January 8, 2015
— Ahmed Bedier (@bedier) January 8, 2015
In a video tribute to Ahmed on French digital channel Itele, the police officer is described by his friends and colleagues as “generous, straightforward, modest, super kind and adorable.” A day after the massacre, the French public left roses and messages on the spot where Ahmed, the slain cop, died. Muslims in the UK also expressed solidarity for Ahmed.
— Mustafa Field (@mustafafield) January 7, 2015
The last picture reads:
لا إكره في الدين
No compulsion in religion (Islam).
Besides #jesuischarlie, #jesuisahmed, #jenesuispascharlie also took off on Twitter by people who disapproved of the satirical paper's editorial line. Charlie Hebdo has ridiculed various minorities, including black people, Jews and Catholics, in France. They were often accused of racism. They even survived a legal backlash when they were acquitted by a French court in 2009 after depicting Sarkozy converting to Judaism for financial reasons.
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) January 8, 2015
— Samuel Sotomayor (@SammySotomayor) January 9, 2015
While the outside world consumes news from France, pointing out their views on freedom of satirical expression, Islamic faith and France as a society, this polarization undermines the very concept of French universalism and French republicanism. Ahmed Merabet died as a French citizen defending his fellow French citizens and the French nation. Ahmed is Charlie. And Charlie is Ahmed.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that @Aboujahjah created the hashtag #JeSuisAhmed. According to a Topsy analysis @JulesLmeghribi was the first one to use the hashtag. Apologies for the error and many thanks to commenter Mike below for flagging the mistake.