John Kerry, Secretary of State – Hotel de Ville – Paris, France – January 16, 2015
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Madam Mayor, thank you for that very, very generous welcome, and thank you for reminding us of the extraordinary history (inaudible). And what an honor for me to be here in this historic venue which the mayor just talked about and shared some of the history.
A moment ago in her office she showed me a photograph, a historic photograph of the resistance members sitting there in her office in August of 1944, a reminder of the close, historic, inescapable relationship between our countries. I appreciate your very generous comments about all of our neighbors. I know you have a warm relationship with them. And not only am I in an historic building, but I am with an historic mayor, because she is the first woman to serve in this office, and that is no small thing.
So it’s a privilege for me to be here with you, and I’m particularly honored to be with members of the law enforcement community, those who were so directly engaged and affected by the events. And you honor us and you honor me and my country by being here today, and we thank you so much for that.
On the day of the living nightmare that began at Charlie Hebdo, I had a chance to share a few thoughts with you from back home in Washington. And today I just – I really wanted to come here and share a hug with all of Paris and all of France. I wanted to express to you personally the sheer horror and revulsion that all Americans felt for the cowardly and despicable act, the assault on innocent lives and on fundamental values.
I want to thank President Hollande and my friend Laurent Fabius, and of course, the mayor, not only for their always generous welcome, but for the grit and the grace that they have shown at this moment of testing for France. I also want to thank our embassy personnel, our ambassador, Jane Hartley, for their hard work and the support to the French people this past week. And I particularly welcome these young kids who’ve come here to share a vision of the future. Thank you.
(Via interpreter) I represent a nation grateful each day that France is our oldest ally. And just as Lafayette crossed the Atlantic some 234 years ago to help America; just as General Pershing and his men proclaimed their arrival on the shores of France a century ago with the words, “Lafayette, we are here”; just as we tackle today’s most daunting challenges side by side, the United States and France will always stand together. We will persevere and we will prevail.
In the days since January 7th, some have said it was France’s most difficult hour. But they forget the history of a country and a people that have throughout history only become, as another American who loved France and knew the cost of conflict once wrote, “stronger at the broken places.”
It was my mother who instilled in me a special love for France and taught me the history she had lived herself during the darkest days of World War II. An American born in Paris, she had become a nurse and was treating the wounded at Montparnasse. The day before the Nazis entered the city, she escaped with her sister on a bicycle and proceeded to forge her way across France while German fighters were strafing them. She eventually made her way to Portugal where she boarded a ship that brought her back to the United States.
The very first time that my parents brought me to France is really one of the most vivid memories of my childhood. It was the first time my mother had come back since she had escaped during the war and I can still hear the sounds of the rubble and the broken glass that was crunching under our feet as we walked through the bombed-out ruins of our home. Almost nothing was left; just a stone staircase and a chimney that rose up into the sky.
But it wasn’t until years later that I fully understood the incredible price of peace and liberty that both of our greatest generations paid. From the French resistance to the citizen soldiers who left American farms and factories to make the world safe from tyranny, no country knows better than France that freedom has a price, because France has sparked so many revolutions of the human spirit, including our own.
Your commitment to liberty and freedom of expression inspires the world, and I can’t begin to tell you how moved I was to see people come together near and far during the march. What was intended to tear us apart has brought us together. That is what the extremists fear the most. But make no mistake: what the extremists and the thugs and the terrorists do not understand and what they cannot understand is that brave and decent people will never give in to intimidation and terror – not now, not ever.
And we are reminded of something else, that in the darkness we can summon great light. French mothers and fathers will long tell their children and grandchildren that in these nine days that followed the horrors of January 7th, ordinary men and women became heroes at a moment’s notice. No doubt you will tell them about Lassana Bathily, a Muslim man from Mali who risked his life to save Jewish customers at the Hyper Cacher market. When he heard the gunman break into the store, he didn’t think of himself or his own safety; he helped more than a dozen customers hide downstairs in the stockroom’s cooler. He got word to the police, and in doing so, he saved lives. Asked why he did it, Lassana said simply: “We are brothers. It’s not a question of Jews or Christians or Muslims. We’re all in the same boat. We have to help each other to get out of the crisis.”
No doubt you will tell them about Ahmed Merabet, who was a pillar in his community, a family man, and passionate about his job as a police officer. You will tell them about how Ahmed rushed to the offices of Charlie Hebdo and came toe-to-toe with the terrorists before he was savagely and senselessly gunned down in the street. In a tribute to his brother, Malek Merabet said: My brother was a Muslim, and he was killed by people who pretended to be Muslims. They are terrorists. That’s all.
And no doubt you will tell them about Yoav Hattab, a young man with a promising future who tried to stop a brutal gunman’s terror, but paid with his own life.
We will never forget these ordinary heroes and all the victims of this tragedy, even as we confront – as the world confronts – cowardly assassins who hide behind balaclavas and assault rifles. Here is the difference between ignorance and knowledge, between falsehood and truth, between cruelty and kindness, between death and life.
I know that even as we speak, there are passionate debates over the complex issues that this tragedy has raised. But what should be beyond debate, beyond the scope of politics or religion, satire or culture, is the common aspiration to create a world rich in love and short on hate. So today at the Hotel de Ville, I join with you in honoring those no longer with us and share with their loved ones the sadness of their loss but the pride in their lives.
We simply will not descend into despair. We will turn this moment of profound loss into lasting commitment. We accept with humility the responsibility that falls to each of us to defend the values our societies cherish and extremists fear the most: tolerance, freedom, truth. In the end, our engagement – all of us in this struggle – is not a choice; it is a mandate.
(Via interpreter) I know that even as we speak, there are passionate debates over the complex issues this tragedy has raised. But what should be beyond debate, beyond the scope of politics or religion, satire or culture, is the common aspiration to create a world rich in love and short on hate. So today at the Hotel de Ville, I join you in honoring those no longer with us and share with their loved ones the sadness of their loss but pride in their lives.
We simply will not descend into despair. We will turn this moment of profound loss into a lasting commitment. We accept with humility the responsibility that falls to each of us to defend the values our societies cherish and extremists fear the most: tolerance, freedom, truth. In the end, our engagement – all of us in this struggle – is not a choice; it is a mandate. It is our obligation.
And now, a good friend from Massachusetts is here with me. He inspired many generations for many years. He is respected and revered for his integrity and the beauty of his music. He has performed all over the world, but today he wanted to be here with me to express his emotion and share our embrace with a song. Ladies and gentlemen: James Taylor. (Applause.)
(Song was played.) (Applause.)
SOURCE: U.S. Department of State