Out of the headlines…journalist attacked

2263434My first contact with Guy Benhamou was in the mid-1990s when he covered the Corsican situation for Libération, known as Libé, the French daily newspaper founded by Jean Paul Sartre and Serge July in 1973 in the wake of the protest movements of May, 1968. Originally an extreme left newspaper, it underwent a number of shifts during the 1980s and 1990s to take the Social Democrat position. At its peak in 2001, it had a circulation of about 170,000 and was the first French daily to have a website. Mr. Benhamou was kind enough to send me copies of all of his coverage, which I translated from the French, and wished me well in my endeavor to write [at that time a screenplay] about Corsica.

santoni and bookPrior to 2000, Mr. Benhamou conducted extended interviews at the request of Jean Michel Rossi and François Santoni, in which the two very frankly discussed the inside skinny on the paramilitary groups in Corsica and commented on the personal feuds, the corruption, and their own covert negotiations with the French State. By doing so, the two were breaking the island’s ancient code of silence, which they admitted they had punished others for doing so.

Rossi funeralIt was not surprising that in August 2000, Rossi and his bodyguard died in a hail of automatic fire as they sat outside a bar having their morning coffee. A chief rival was suspected but only imprisoned on other charges. Santoni realized he was living on borrowed time (having survived an assassination attempt in 1995) and became even more vocal, causing great embarrassment to his enemies. He even predicted his own assassination, which indeed did occur on August 17th of 2001 when gunmen invaded a wedding he was attending.

-Even as recently at 2012, there were twelve assassinations related to the movement, which is now described by some commentators as being dominated by organized crime.

220px-Dr_Edmond_SimeoniHowever, Corsican Nationalism in its purer political and social form is still alive and well on the island. Edmond Simeoni, now in his late 80s, described as the “Father of Nationalism” is one of the movement’s major inspirational voices. The Nationalists call for the political sovereignty of Corsica, partially based on cultural and ethnic differences between the island and the mainland, the promotion of the Corsican language (lingua corsa or in French Corsu) and its compulsory teaching in schools, the limiting of tourist infrastructure and policies promoting tourism, and in its place sustainable economic development, compliance with building permits and coastal law, and the recognition of political prisoner status for members of the Corsican nationalist movement including those who have committed acts amounting to common crimes. It is to these efforts that I dedicate my novel, especially the preservation and use of lingua corsa.

526x297-WD7After the publication of Pour solde de tout compte, Guy Benhamou was himself the target of reprisals, a prime example of an attempt to kill the “messenger” that has played out so recently in such a tragic way in Paris at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Guys home was strafed with automatic fire as is seen in this news video and he and his family were put under police protection. He continues as a journalist to this day but focuses on non-political reporting. My character of Pierre Benatar was inspired by Mr. Benhamou but not intended in any way to be a real-life portrayal of this famous and courageous journalist.

Rossi, Jean-Michel and Santoni, François. Entretiens avec [as told to] Guy Benhamou. Pour solde de tout compte, Les nationalistes corse parlent. Paris, Éditions Denoël, 2000.

Je suis Charlie

je suis charlie crowdWith yet another mass assassination in the headlines, I think about of the string of banner headlines that have punctuated my seven plus decades here on earth. Assassinations, acts of terror, natural calamities. Just like you, I remember where I was and what I was doing at the exact moment that these tragedies came into my awareness.

funeral jfkThe first was the tragic death of JFK…the moment that our innocence as a nation was lost forever. I was nineteen, out of college for a semester due to a personal trauma of my own. I was in the family room of our three bedroom rancher high in the hills above La Jolla, the quintessential beach town where nothing could possibly go wrong. Our long-term cleaning woman, a proud and industrious black woman named Ezarine, was ironing one of my mother’s white blouses as I sat on the nearby couch numbing my own pain by watching As The World Turns when a CBS news bulletin flashed across the screen. As a truly shaken Walter Cronkite came on the air, I heard Ezarine gasp and watched her buckle to the floor shouting “oh, no” over and over. Later, as we both sneaked a smoke out on the patio out of sight of my mother, I watched the pain of lost hope drift across her face like an evening shadow stealing the last light of day.

rfk newspaperI was back at the University of Illinois living in the graduate dorm and excited to be involved in my very first political campaign…for Robert Kennedy. I was proud to have graduated from the namby-pamby I Like Ike politics of my mother to be part of the social justice scene. I recall sitting alone for hours on my bed weeping and staring at the eleven-inch screen of my television as they replayed the bloody scene in the back hall of the hotel again and again.

mlk balconyA year had not passed when Martin Luther King was struck down. I was in the hallway taking a class break when someone rushed in with the news. I remember the sense of isolation, realizing that few of my white classmates shared my own particular pain.

Len and Karen airportI was married to a black man at the time and immersed in the black community. I had experienced the slings and arrows of racism up close and personal. Four white college boys stopping suddenly in front of us and jumping out of their car with baseball bats, fleeing only when my husband drew a revolver out of the glove compartment. Being pursued through O’Hare airport by a redneck shouting obscenities at us at the top of his lungs moments after this photo was taken.

911 towersWoken by an early morning phone call from a friend on the morning of 911 just in time to flick on the television and see the second plane hit was shocking…yes. But somewhere deep inside, I slipped the images into place beside all the others and knew they would not be the last.

Now, the Paris I love, that I have visited almost a dozen times, that has always felt safe to me, even on the Metro in the dead of night, is stained with the blood of another brave generation of French revolutionaries. The only difference is that guillotine has been replaced by automatic weapons. Je suis Charlie. Je suis Martin. Je suis John. Je suis Robert. Je suis 3000 souls.