A business on the east side of the road had three flagpoles and the three flags were at half mast. This was not unusual -- since 9-11 the state of Michigan has ordered the flags to half mast for all the U.S. military deaths in action. On the left was the U.S. flag and on the right a white Toyota corporate flag.
The center flag was the Frech tricolor, streaming to the left in the stiff wind and backlit with the others by the Sun.
Visually it was striking. I would have had to loop around to photograph it and even then, I had brought the Nikon F3, which right now is loaded with black & white film. I did stop on the way home and pulled into the parking lot, but by then the breeze had died and the flags weren't blown out. Oh well.
Of course the flags were there to honor and and support the dead in the Charlie Hedbo magazine killings in Paris. Idiots go around proclaiming it's a matter of the First Amendment...
The responses to the heavily armed murders in the West have been many and complicated. In general, the feeling is that freedom of the press is paramount, as much as revulsion that any terrorists should kill anyone. The concerns of the Muslim community are, of course, minimized here.
What makes the situation interesting is that most people over here probably don't understand what Charlie Hedbo is about. This isn't political cartoons and comments like The Funny Times. This is full blown French satire. And they don't reserve their targeting to just Muslims. I'm sure the good conservatives of West Michigan would be furious at the Charlie Hedbo cartoons pointed at their religion.
The sudden solidarity to France is quite a shift to the post 9-11 furor over the French government and the era of "surrender monkeys", Freedom Fries and American toast (with syrup and bacon, of course). And we didn't see this level of support with Salman Rushdie or the Danish cartoonists years ago, but then they weren't nearly as shocking and the body count wasn't there.
Mrs. Dr. Phil just said that NPR had reported the other day that some survey has Grand Rapids listed as the 6th "smartest city in the U.S.", based on the level of college and postgraduate degrees. So maybe it's not so strange that someone would think to raise and then lower partway the French flag. Or maybe it's a corporate thing -- I have no idea. I do know that most businesses here would not already have a French flag in their supply closet, so as a public display, this requires some thought and effort.
Over in France itself, several French TV and newspapers pledged to provide personnel to keep Charlie Hedbo running, after losing such a chunk of staff. Yesterday the next issue of Charlie Hedbo hit the newsstands and promptly sold out, despite a print run of three million, versus their usual... what was it, 20,000 or 30,000.
And yes, the new issue featured a cartoon Mohammad on its cover, flaunting in the face of the no-depiction of the Prophet issue that prompted the original massacre.
But a French flag flying at half mast in West Michigan... it was something to behold.
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