The Paris lockdown after the barbaric attack on Charlie Hedbo, a French satirical newspaper, is over. Posters and online cartoons of pencils have become the symbol of freedom of the press and a weapon against terror. Posts of "I am Charlie" and "I am Ahmed," the dead cop, have gone viral, as Parisians unite in the war against terror. Even though the alleged perpetrators, two jihadist brothers, have been tracked down, people stare unashamedly into the faces of strangers to check they're not the enemy. It's inconceivable to learn that the suspects were known to the police. How has this been allowed to happen? And when and where can we expect the next attack?
While hundreds of thousands of people in Europe protest for freedom of the press, I cannot but help to recall my role at the center of the Mumbai Massacre just over five years ago, when over a hundred people were killed and many more wounded. Then, as now, untold numbers of people have been treacherously mutilated at a profound emotional level. In communities -- friends, neighbors, and relatives have been lost, causing inexplicable and unimaginable pain to all those around them. Children struggle to understand why their parents are not coming home. Can we even begin to understand their pain?
Moshe Holtzberg was still in diapers on November 26, 2008 in Mumbai, when Pakistani jihadists from the Islamic terror group, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, slaughtered his parents, Rabbi Gabi and Rivka, in their home Chabad House, a Jewish center for learning. As a professional psychologist and trauma counselor, I was asked to meet with Moshe and his nanny, Sandra, the only survivors of the attack. At the beginning of the attack on the 'Jewish' house, Sandra had found Moshe hysterical near his parents' bodies. She'd grabbed him, and then miraculously raced down the stairs and escaped onto the street. Hours later in the small study of the Israeli consul's apartment, Sandra recounted the horrifying drama.
"I don't know myself how we got out," she sobbed, wiping her face against her blood-spattered orange sari. "I just did it without thinking. Thanks to God, I got the boy. But just look at him. He is soooo scared from what he saw. Many bad thoughts also wander through my mind all the time," Sandra continued, squatting near the traumatized baby boy, hoping to rock him in her arms.
Moshe stood rigidly in the corner His lifeless green eyes stared at nobody and nothing. Matted brown hair was glued around his comatose face. He couldn't and wouldn't move. There was no laughter, no crying, no talking. What a stark contrast to the cherubic Moshe who only a few days before had run around giggling in the family's living room and then flopped peacefully asleep in his mother's lap.
The memorial service for Gabi and Rivka at the main Mumbai synagogue was packed with dignitaries and ordinary local people -- Muslims and Christians as well as Jews. Towards the end of the service Moshe started calling for his mother. in the arms of his grandparents he wriggled and screamed, "Ima, Ima," -- the Hebrew for Mother -- hysterically. His cries of anguish plunged into my heart. Moshe couldn't and wouldn't be comforted. His anguish rose to the top of the high domed ceiling, clinging to the blue and red stained glass windows. It was impossible to conceive that our God was listening. Even now, when I close my eyes, I can often still hear his pain and see those lifeless green eyes.
This past decade will be remembered for the increasing intensity and frequency of terrorist attacks on innocent civilians. The London tube bombings, Madrid train blasts, abduction of Nigerian school kids, and barbaric beheadings. Government and security agencies seem to be struggling to keep terrorism under control. Indeed some governments themselves are the perpetrators of brutal acts against ordinary people demanding civil rights.
Journalists, in particular, are becoming increasingly vulnerable. This latest horrific attack is our 2015 wake up call -- an appeal for action. The very heart of our democratic values and the right of ordinary folk to stay safe is at risk. It's time for us to hear Moshe's anguish and be inspired by Sandra's courage. Our new year's resolution should be to make sure extremists get the message. We will not cave in to terror. We can all be Charlie and Ahmed, anywhere, anytime, any place. Let's raise our pencils and fight their way. "#JeSuisCharlie," et "#JeSuisAhmed," et tu?