A guest blog by Eve Gani, Director of International Affairs, Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), ADL’s partner in France.
On January 11, millions of French citizens demonstrated in a historic moment of unity in defense of our democratic freedoms. On January 13, we exercised one of those freedoms – freedom of religion – to bury 17 terror victims according to their respective families’ religious traditions, or absence of religious tradition: Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, atheist.
My colleagues at CRIF attended the Jewish funeral in Jerusalem and secular funerals in Paris. I chose to attend the funeral of Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim policeman killed outside the Charlie Hebdo office.
I went with a Muslim friend, also a policeman. I had met this friend a few months ago at a gala dinner to support the work of Latifa Ibn Ziaten, the mother of a Muslim soldier killed by Mohammed Merah, the terrorist who also murdered three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse. We came from two very different parts of French society, but both wanted to support Latifa Ibn Ziaten’s work with at-risk youth.
Immediately after the Charlie Hebdo attack, my friend called to alert me and urge us to be careful. As he told me about the attack, his voice conveyed how nervous he was. A policeman had been shot dead in the street, and he worried about his children’s future should the same happen to him. Recalling that conversation and the fact that a policewoman had also been shot in the interim, I knew I wanted to go with him to Ahmed Merabat’s funeral.
It was the first Muslim burial I had ever attended. During the prayers, I thought of the Muslim friends I have had through years, starting in high school. Some of them, like my Jewish friends, had left France. For Tunisia, London and Baltimore. They all wanted to build a better life, one safe from violence and all forms of hatred and bigotry.
At the burial, I saw Muslim colleagues of Ahmed proudly wearing their French Police uniforms, lay leaders from Muslim communities, a priest, and a rabbi. The prayer leader thanked the Jews for attending and urged everyone to demonstrate their solidarity with the Jewish victims at an event in front of the kosher supermarket that was attacked.
Rector Dalil Boubakeur and others from the Grand Mosque of Paris were at the funeral, and we recalled a different meeting, not unrelated to the Charlie Hebdo terror attack. Three years ago, CRIF and the Grand Mosque of Paris had organized an interfaith discussion on the topic of blasphemy and the laws of the Republic. We underscored our common religious values and our common commitment to the rule of law, all of which the jihadists oppose.
Tragically, Charlie Hebdo was targeted because a jihadist interpretation of religion, incompatible with ours. And Ahmed, whose job was to enforce the law of the Republic, was killed on the way.
I watched as Ahmed’s coffin was borne by my friend. My friend who fears to be next.
To my friend,
A French Muslim policeman,
May your children grow up in peace, with their father, in a France, respectful of and safe for all.