In a ceremony with French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, Lassana Bathily, a Mailan-born 24-year-old who had already become a French hero, also became a French citizen.
Bathily went from ordinary supermarket employee to international newsmaker when he saved the lives of several people at the Hyper Cacher market where Amedy Coulibaly killed four people while holding others hostage on January 9th. Bathily switched off a walk-in freezer where he hid several people before escaping and providing information to the police about Coulibaly and the layout of the market — information that Le Figaro reports was instrumental in planning the police raid that ended the siege.
According to articles in Le Monde and Le Figaro, Bathily appeared overwhelmed by the proceedings. In his remarks he reminded an audience that included colleagues and friends as well as high-profile guests that he lost a good friend during the attack. Yohan Cohen, a fellow employee, was shot by Coulibaly when he tried to grab the hostage-taker’s weapon. “He was someone I liked very much. We got along well. We used to kid around. We called each other ‘Boss-boss,'” said Bathily in a French that Le Figaro describes as “hesitant.”
Much has been made in the American press of the fact that Bathily is a Muslim, a piece of information that French articles tend to treat as secondary. As for Bathily, he used his remarks to try to put his actions in perspective. “I am not a hero,” he reportedly said, “I am Lassana, and I will stay myself. My heart spoke to me and made me act. Religion and community have nothing to do with it.”
Meanwhile, an opinion piece in Rue89 reminded observers that despite the ceremony’s feel-good vibe, it comes on the heels of Valls’ characterization of the sate of many of France’s “sensitive neighborhoods” as “territorial, social and ethnic apartheid.” The piece also points out that Bathily’s own French high school has an increasing number of homeless teens among its student body.
The website Public joined a chorus of people disappointed that although Bathily received three tokens from the Republic — a letter signed by François Hollande, a passport and a medal — he did not receive the Legion of Honor as previously speculated. “Maybe it’s coming later?” the site muses.