The Human Comedy: Je Suis Claude

Satirical Story, Architecture Photography
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Short Story

Claude walked along the banks of the Siene. His breath clouded in front of his face, ghosts in the early twilight. His gloved hands gripped the banister. His eyes found Notre Dame, her stained glass weeping. Next to him, dirt and ice covered the ground. Of spring’s rosebuds, thorns remained.

Twilight in Paris – what had become of it? A newspaper stand nearby, and Claude didn’t look. He knew the headlines. Terror, with a capital T, right here in Lovers’ City. In Europe. In the world. It was not a Middle East problem anymore. It was spreading – a pox on all our houses.

What right had they? Killing people, because of cartoons. What right had they? Drawing cartoons intended to anger others. Surely, Claude thought, the first case was the baser evil. There was no condoning those murders, or the hatred that fired them. To think oneself justified –  righteous, even – for that type of slaughter … it was nonsense.

But the cartoons … were they satire, or insult? Where did one draw the line? More to the point: What purpose did the cartoons serve? Freedom of speech was well worth defending, as was the freedom of religion. Speech about religion – that was the question.

The world needed to address the issue of radical Islam. That much was clear. What wasn’t clear was how the issue could be addressed productively. Whatever had been done thus far was not working. Guns were not working. Satire was not working. The menace was spreading.

What would work? Claude turned from the river and the tearful glass and the thorns and walked. Perhaps, he reasoned, this war called for different tactics. Perhaps the way to stop terrorists from killing civilians was to prevent civilians from becoming terrorists. And perhaps the way to do that was to stop dropping bombs and to start dropping the barriers to communication and understanding.

Who, in the Judeo-Christian world,  knew a darned thing about the Quran? Claude sure didn’t. Maybe he needed to – maybe knowledge of what Islam was supposed to be could serve as a recourse against those who wished to hijack the religion and steer it into skyscrapers. Maybe connecting with peaceful, life-respecting Muslims was the key to galvanizing them against the extremists. Maybe learning about Mohammed would achieve more than drawing cartoons of him ever could.

Claude turned down the Boulevard Saint-Michel. In the plaza, above the fountain, Archangel Michael battled the devil. Claude looked at them and sighed. They had been fighting for far too long.

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Photograph by wjarek

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