Roundtable on Charlie Hebdo promotes strong discussion, conversation
I write to thank the Department of French for the roundtable “Charlie Hebdo: Facts and Questions” it organized on Thursday, Feb. 6 in Brower Commons. It is rare that we at Rutgers come together as a community of scholars, students and global citizens to address matters of great moment. We did so on Thursday.
Many of us at home and abroad were shocked by the events in Paris last month. One way this shock registered — at first as a certain numbing and need for orientation — was in the staking out of all too familiar positions and the closing of ranks. On Thursday, those ranks were opened and time was taken to explore complex issues in a patient, nuanced and self-critical manner. The roundtable began with concise, tremendously informative remarks by colleagues in French, History and Sociology, providing much needed cultural context and historical background. The floor was then opened and, as microphones were passed around the room, an extremely lively exchange ensued. Many of the toughest, most thoughtful and penetrating questions came from the undergraduates. Perhaps more than anything else, it was their candor and the intensity of their engagement that made the event so memorable.
I sat there thinking this is what we’re about –– This is the kind of conversation the University was designed to foster. It reminded me of the teach-in organized last spring to discuss the invitation of Condoleezza Rice to speak at the Rutgers commencement. My colleagues Uri Eisenzweig and François Cornilliat were involved in the planning of both events and I would like to thank them for gathering us in our great diversity of views and experiences to engage in serious, thought-provoking discussion and debate. As a professor of German and Comparative Literature, I was particularly proud at both events to see colleagues and students in the language departments bringing their considerable expertise to bear on issues of great concern to us all.
When the global reaches us locally, as it did with such violence last month and as it does in more subtle ways every day, I am grateful to have colleagues and academic events that help us begin to orient ourselves amid the shock, providing us with much needed frameworks of thought and enabling us to ask harder, more informed and probing questions.
Michael G. Levine is a professor of German and comparative literature and chair of the Department of German, Russian & East European Languages and Literatures.