While Paris reeled from Wednesday's deadly attack on the office of a satirical newspaper, a crowd of people with links to French and Muslim communities gathered in Chicago -- 4,000 miles away from the carnage -- to condemn the actions of the gunmen and strengthen cross-cultural bonds.
"Facing barbarism, we must remain firm, protecting the values [and] heart of our republic,” said Vincent Floreani, the French Consul General in Chicago, addressing the crowd of more than 150 who had gathered Wednesday night at the Alliance Francaise cultural center to honor the 12 people killed at the office of weekly paper Charlie Habdo.
“The terrorists want us to be divided," Floreani also said. "We should not make any confusion between a small group of extremists and a whole religion, which is a religion of peace.”
Charlie Hebdo has a history of publishing controversial cartoons critical of politics, culture and religion and has released several pieces lampooning the Prophet Muhammad. The shooters who stormed the paper's office Wednesday are said to have shouted "We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad" during their assault.
Chicago's French Consul General Vincent Floreani addressing the attendees of a Wednesday vigil for the Charlie Hebdo attack.
Yusef Al-Jarani, a 21-year-old University of Chicago student, helped mobilize other Muslim-Americans in Chicago for the vigil.
"The perpetrators [of the Charlie Hebdo killings] were purporting to carry out the attacks in the name of our religion,” Al-Jarani told The Huffington Post. "We discovered that the French community was also at work on a vigil. Instead of co-opting the movement, we felt it should be led by the French people -- but we wanted to to have a Muslim presence in show of support."
Attendees at the Chicago vigil signing messages in solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo victims.
Hamid Ghezali, a 53-year-old French-Algerian working at the Alliance Francais, expressed disappointment and frustration that the shooters -- who massacred 10 civilians and two police officers -- had reportedly claimed the Charlie Hebdo attack in the name of Islam. Ghezali also noted that one of the slain officers was Muslim.
"The media today makes mistakes. They confuse Muslims with extremists," Ghezali told HuffPost. "They are not from us. They do not represent me.”
Some of the controversial covers published by the French satire newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
The Alliance Francaise spread a banner out for attendees to sign and prominently displayed some of Charlie Hebdo's most controversial covers in the meeting space. Al-Jarani and others agreed that despite the offense the images caused, maintaining freedom of the press in France and elsewhere remains crucial in the face of terrorism.
"When it comes to this type of cartoon, it’s not something where a lot of Muslims would come out and say we were happy about it," Al-Jarani explained. "Many, including myself, were deeply offended. But we stand by the freedom of that magazine and other publications to express those viewpoints without fear of harm."
Philippe de Vendegies, a 51-year-old French native who has lived in Chicago for more than two decades, told HuffPost that news of the attack shocked him. He said he wants to see the shooters arrested, but doesn't want to see retaliation against the Muslim community.
"Whatever [the shooters] wanted to accomplish, they did not succeed," de Vendegies said. "That does not move me to do anything to take action against [the Muslim community]. How unnecessary it is to act that way."