This is the third post in Sally O’Dowd’s seven-part, music-inspired series paying homage to free speech in light of the Charlie Hebdo and other lethal attacks occurring this week in France. For other posts click:  first post/Les Miserables, second post/Bruce Springsteenfourth post/Enigmafifth post/songs from the 1996 movie Romeo and Julietsixth post/Tears for Fearsseventh post/Daft Punk.

When I lived in Paris, I frequented a hammam–something like a Turkish bath. Hammam means “hot water” in Arabic and refers to a steam room.  Hammams, separated by gender, are central to Muslim life…women and men go for a good steam and sweat in the sauna, enjoy massages, exfoliate their skin, drink tea, talk, and pray to Mecca. Indeed, Muslim women normally dressed in head scarves and burkas walked around naked and literally let their hair down. I went for cleansing and skincare purposes, as did the French women including a retired Agence France Presse photojournalist.

Art courtesy of new Twitter friend Shaz Muller
Art courtesy of my new Twitter friend Shaz Muller

One of the women I talked with most was Fatiah, an Algerian woman who worked for the city of Paris. She was quite welcoming  despite our cultural and religious differences; I come from a very Catholic family and am now an atheist.

Fatiah wanted to know how I was acclimating…she knew of my struggle to fit in at work. She listened. She said France could benefit from outsiders; we could enliven the economy and business-life. She became part of my weekend ritual.

One day in the pool (the hammam had a Western-style gym) she lectured me on how unacceptable it is to mock Mohammed. I did not say anything; it wasn’t my place, literally and figuratively. I was exercising and not at all interested in the debate.

As I am clearly on the side of Charlie Hebdo’s right to free speech, I  am choosing a classic French song for my third post. Just as Edith Piaf sang, “Non, je ne regrette rien,” the magazine’s cartoonists and writers never regretted their work and won’t moving forward.

Like New York after 9/11, Paris and all of France will have to find a way to move forward. As such, the final words of “Non, je ne regrette rien,” seem all the more prophetic:

Car ma vie, car mes joies
Aujourd’hui, ça commence avec toi

Because my life, because my joys
Today, that begins with you

Watch a live performance here:

–Sally O’Dowd is a former journalist who has founded Sally On Media, a company providing business strategy and integrated marketing services.

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