The terror attack survivors who refuse to be silenced

Controversial Swedish artist Lars Vilks is seen in Nyhamnslage January 3, 2012. — Reuters pic
Controversial Swedish artist Lars Vilks is seen in Nyhamnslage January 3, 2012. — Reuters pic

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COPENHAGEN, Jan 14 — Gathered in the Danish capital for a conference of terror attack survivors, artists and journalists vowed to continue fighting for free speech, despite a wave of violence targeting critical voices.

“We are all targeted, indiscriminately, and the more of us choose to stay silent, the more dangerous it becomes for the few who continue speaking out, like me,” said Zineb El Rhazoui, a 35-year-old journalist from French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

She was on holiday on January 7, 2015, when jihadists broke into the Paris offices of the magazine, massacring 12 people in an attack that shook France and the world.

The assault sparked mass protests and a wave of solidarity, with people across the world adopting the slogan “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie).

“The more of us speak out, defend our freedom and refuse to give up on our liberties, the less the danger will be ... focused on certain people,” El Rhazoui told AFP on the sidelines of a conference hosted by the Danish parliament yesterday.

Her commitment to her beliefs has not come without a cost; everywhere she goes, she is accompanied by security guards.

Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who in 2007 sparked controversy with his drawings of Muslim Prophet Mohammad, said nothing would change if he stopped working.

“If you stop, the things going on will not stop,” Vilks said.

He has also been the target of several attempted assaults, the latest in Copenhagen in February 2015, during a conference dubbed “Art, blasphemy and freedom”.

‘That was it’

Like El Rhazoui, Vilks leads a complicated life. Under constant surveillance, he must coordinate with his security guards in order to plan his day.

“If I have forgotten to buy some milk, I cannot actually go out and buy the milk, and I cannot in practise call the bodyguards and say ‘I want to buy some milk’,” he said. 

“As a film ... you have to plan your days in a certain way,” the 71-year-old added.

But after surviving an attack, some people choose to move away from activism.

Patrick Piscot was just 18 years old when he survived the July 2011 bomb and gun massacre by Norwegian neo-Nazi Anders Behring Breivik that left 77 people dead. 

Breivik was sentenced in 2012 to 21 years behind bars.

“If you survive something I believe that it is your responsibility to get over it in your own way, you have the key to how you want to change your life,” said Piscot, who decided to end his political activism soon after the attack.

“I continued to participate in AUF (the Workers’ Youth League in Norway) for three weeks or months after the massacre, but that was it. I wanted to be me,” he added. — AFP

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