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The origins of the rallying cry “Je suis Charlie” and the meaning their author wanted to give to these words

By improvising the slogan “Je suis Charlie” in just a few minutes, its author had no idea that he would be the origin of a global rallying cry.

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The origins of the rallying cry “Je suis Charlie” and the meaning their author wanted to give to these words

By improvising the slogan “Je suis Charlie” in just a few minutes, its author had no idea that he would be the origin of a global rallying cry. Nine years later, the story seems “lunar” to him.

Joachim Roncin tells it in a book which was released on Wednesday January 3, A Crazy Story (Editions Grasset). On January 7, 2015, the day of the attack which cost the lives of 12 members of Charlie Hebdo magazine, he was at his job as artistic director of another magazine, Stylist.

Like many French people, he was horrified by this jihadist attack in the capital, against a satirical newspaper which was part of his youth, he who was 38 years old at the time. He scribbles “Charlie” on a notebook. Then “I am” in front of one of them. “I launch Illustrator, the software I work with every day, and I write “I AM”. First a black font on a white background. I change my mind, it will be white on a black background. I add “CHARLIE”. I post my tweet”, at 12:52 p.m., wrote Joachim Roncin today.

This tweet still exists. And the image it contains is engraved in the collective memory, by dint of having circulated, taken up in chorus by the millions of people who showed their support for the victims of this attack, or commented on endlessly by those who approved or criticized the slogan. The disproportion is obvious, in the story, between the initial intention, which is to share his emotion, and the global impact of these three words which will earn Joachim Roncin incessant media requests for weeks.

“It’s lunar, actually,” he told AFP. “If I had to do it again, maybe I wouldn’t respond” to all these journalists. “Je suis Charlie” will put this anonymous person on television, despite his reluctance. He will encourage Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to receive its author, who has a Ukrainian mother. It will decorate the Google homepage and Times Square in New York. It will inspire “Je ne suis pas Charlie”. But what did these three words originally mean? Even with hindsight, the book does not provide a definitive answer.

“It all happened so quickly that finding a true, immutable meaning, no, I think there will never really be one,” explains Joachim Roncin. He only knows the breeding ground: “The nostalgia for a childhood, for a past, for a missing brother... I think that Charlie Hebdo was one of those little constituent elements of what I was . And, with tragedy, we lose this carefreeness. It’s this carelessness that I regret.” “Like me, the slogan will have had a thousand lives since 2015,” writes the man who became design director for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Joachim Roncin notes that it has drifted to the right, towards hostility to political Islam, even though it contains the name of a very left-wing magazine. One of its creator's struggles, detailed in the work, was to prevent it from being used to make a profit. Some rushed to register it as a trademark with the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI).

“In these moments of trouble, we really want to help, we really want to have a Je suis Charlie t-shirt,” he remembers. "I watch. And I realize that there are 120 trademark registrations at the INPI. That seems crazy to me. Particularly in certain categories such as weaponry: there could have been “Je suis Charlie” guns.”

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