Skip to main content

Why wasn't Stephen Harper in the front row with world leaders at the massive demonstration that followed the terrorist attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo? Incredibly, Canada's Prime Minister chose instead to spend the day in Kingston to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Sir John A. Macdonald's birth.

True, Barack Obama didn't attend the Paris ceremonies either, but this is no excuse for Mr. Harper's indifference. Unlike President Obama, whose emotional ties are with Asia and who never showed particular interest in Europe, Mr. Harper represents a country which, as he often says himself, was born in French.

It's quite probable that the Prime Minister doesn't like the cartoons that were Charlie Hebdo's trademark (if he ever saw them). I don't either, actually – I've always found them crude, vulgar and somewhat childish in their primitive hatred of religion. Also, the great French tradition of satirical pamphlets and cartoons was originally a rebellion against the Catholic Church, which was, historically, the major ally of the monarchy and the military. There's a difference between savaging the institutions in power and attacking the religious symbols of a disenfranchised minority, which is what Muslims are in today's France.

That said, Mr. Harper should have been sensitive to the principle involved, freedom of expression and the right to publish even shocking opinions without risking death. Isn't this the very basis of the values that Canada wants to defend throughout the world?

If Mr. Harper found Charlie's cartoons offensive, at least he could have gone to Paris to pay tribute to the Jewish victims of the Islamist attacks. The four men shot in the kosher supermarket on Friday were the forgotten victims of the tragedy. They were hardly mentioned in the flood of declarations and demonstrations that immediately followed the attacks, although they were a dark reminder that although the largest number of victims of the jihadis are Muslims, in Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere, their targets of choice are always Jews.

The most recent Islamist attacks in Europe were anti-Semitic: In Toulouse in 2012, a jihadi shot four Jews including three children in front of a Jewish school. Last year, another French jihadi allegedly killed four people at the Jewish Museum of Belgium. The four hostages killed last week in Paris didn't happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were killed because they were Jews. Of all the hundreds of shops in the Porte de Vincennes district, Amedy Coulibaly, the third member of the terrorist trio, targeted a kosher supermarket. This is not a coincidence.

Yohan Cohen, 23, Yoav Hattab, 22, François-Michel Saada, 64, and Philippe Braham, 45, were buried Tuesday at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The fact that their families decided to bury them so far away from the country where they were born or spent the larger part of their lives sends a powerful – and terrible – message to France.

The French authorities expressed strong and heartfelt solidarity with the country's Jews. Setting aside their political disagreements, President François Hollande and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a solemn visit to Paris's Grand Synagogue after the Sunday march. But fear is mounting among French Jews, especially those who are observant and wear religious symbols and those who live in predominantly Muslim areas.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe