Charlotte Farhan won’t even be a footnote in the terrible story of Paris over the past few days, but, in the manner of these things, she’s become a minor internet sensation for her post explaining why she wouldn’t follow the global trend and overlay her Facebook profile picture with the tricoloure of the French flag. Ms Farhan, a Parisian, wrote an articulate and well-argued defence of her position, which has attracted more than 130,000 likes and which in itself suggests that there is quite a lot of support for her position.
“I won’t be changing my profile to the French flag even though I am French and from Paris,” she wrote. “... If I did this for every attack on the world, I would have to change my profile every day, several times a day. My heart is with the world, no borders, no hierarchy. I hold every human’s life with value who is attacked by extremist beliefs whether they are based on religion, prejudice or profit. Don’t be part of the ‘us and them’ mentality which the warmongers want you to do.”
Of course, in the context of some of the individual acts of heroism that have come to light in the aftermath of the attacks on Paris, it is wrong, bordering on distasteful, to describe Ms Farhan’s actions as “brave”, but I applaud her having the courage of her convictions and to stand firm in the face of a very strong prevailing wind. She has, inevitably, drawn a backlash on the Twittersphere, and in this there are echoes of the criticism the poppy refuseniks endured in Britain recently.
Undoubtedly, there is a beauty and a poetry and a power to the way the world has rallied behind the people of Paris with individual, corporate and national shows of support, from the Facebook flag wavers to the #prayforparis tweeters to the famous buildings around the world that have been turned red, white and blue. (I won’t include in this, however, Uber’s shameless opportunism turning the their cars on screen into the colours of the French flag: isn’t Paris where they’ve met most opposition?)
We all react in different ways in times of trouble, when we feel intimidated by something we don’t fully understand, and when we’re assailed by dramatically framed, portentous soundbites, from Francois Hollande’s “act of war” to the Pope’s suggestion that this forms part of a Third World War. But the overbearing, omnipresent nature of social media seems to have taken the individuality and singularity out of expression - if you don’t follow the hashtag convention, it means you don’t care - which is why Ms Farhan has done the world something of a service by explaining that it’s possible to feel empathetic while not attaching yourself to a globally recognised slogan.
I so admire the French at times like this. They have a real sense of their Republic, and understand the principles on which their constitution is built. They have simply expressed values which they know they must defend. And they don’t just sit at their computers pounding out formulaic messages. They put on a proper demonstration of togetherness, and show just how angry and resolute they are. Fraternité and Solidarité.
It’s truly moving to see a society, injured and fearful, behaving with such dignity and defiance. I don’t pray for Paris. In fact, I don’t pray. I’m with Ms Farhan. It’s a complex world which can’t be reduced to soundbites, slogans and hashtags.
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