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Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie

Patricia O'Toole

By Patricia O’Toole

January 12, 2015



As I looked at the photos of the demonstrations in Paris on Sunday, I was most moved by the handwritten signs that read Je n’ai pas peur (“I am not afraid”). At night, after Paris had gone to bed, I walked down Fifth Avenue to see the Empire State Building’s tribute to France—the tricolor lighting and, at eight o’clock, five minutes of darkness. Waiting for the lights to come back on, I meditated on “I am not afraid.” I share the feeling, but so what? I thought. I have very little to fear. I am not a member of any minority targeted by terrorists. It is as easy as breathing for me to be unafraid. The hard part: moving from unafraid to brave. That is what people like me owe the world, I decided. Bravery. Conspicuous bravery when it is cowardly not to speak out and inconspicuous perseverance in the long, slow work of creating a world in which everyone will be as safe as I am.

Patricia O’Toole is a contributing editor of The American Scholar and a professor in the School of the Arts at Columbia University. The author of The Five of Hearts: An Intimate Portrait of Henry Adams and His Friends and When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt after the White House, she is now at work on a book about Woodrow Wilson.

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