Members of The University of Edinburgh community gathered for a vigil in Bristo Square on Tuesday 13 January to remember the victims of the Paris and Nigeria terror attacks.
The vigil, organised by History student Flora Hutchings, drew many attendees from the University’s large French contingent, and saw participants defy wind, snow and freezing temperatures to place candles on the McEwan Lantern Pillar.
Hutchings, who arranged the event using social media, told The Student that it had been a success.
“I wanted to give people in the city the opportunity to reflect on the week’s atrocities, and to be able to talk about how they had responded. I spoke to an 88-year-old man who was just grateful that he had the chance to express how he was feeling about the attacks,” said Hutchings.
The January terror attacks on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, a kosher supermarket in Paris, and a remote village in Nigeria have ignited debate on campus over religion and the ethical limits of free expression.
While some students are unequivocally supportive of a right to free speech even at the cost of possible offence, others temper their support, saying that certain types of expression lead not only to offence but also to division and violence at home and abroad.
In remarks to The Student, Mohamed Iqbal, a fourth-year law and international relations student, said: “I think looking at this from a free speech-centric point of view sort of misses the point.
“There’s the view that the terrorists “win” if we don’t publish all of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons as a staunch defence of free speech.
“But I think their actual victory comes if we stir up more division between ourselves, and that’s really what the attack was about.”
Others have highlighted the perceived hypocrisy of world leaders at Paris’s record-breaking solidarity march, noting that several have been responsible for the detention of journalists in their home countries.
Hutchings told The Student: “It’s not just about Paris, or the West. There has been an element of ethnocentricity with ‘je suis Charlie’ that I don’t agree with.
“It’s important to remember and reflect on daily atrocities caused by radicalist behaviour, and try to understand what they are about. I wanted people to think about the Boko Haram situation too.”
Speaking to The Student, Hallam Tuck, an editor at Edinburgh’s politics and international relations journal Leviathan, said: “Although clearly the Charlie Hebdo attacks were despicable and tragic, France’s most pressing concern is political inertia and the major deficit of legitimacy faced by President Hollande’s government, not some monolithic ‘radical Islamism’.
“With Hollande’s approval ratings already at historic lows, such solutions will be very difficult to find. Yet, the worth of a liberal state is measured in its ability to promote tolerance in the face of hatred and prejudice. If we are going to learn from the attacks, this must be our lesson.”