Javier Albisu(IANS) | The News Minute | February 24, 2015 | 03.20 pm IST
A street artist who goes by the name of Combo has become a symbol of tolerance in France after being badly beaten for covering a wall on a Paris street with graffiti calling for coexistence between Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
"I am not afraid. I am aware there is a risk, but I am optimistic. There is always a risk of getting hit by a car or choking on a pistachio nut," the artist told Spanish news agency Efe.
On one of the recent days that have witnessed the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and anti-Muslim violence following last month's jihadi attacks in Paris, four men interrupted Combo while he was decorating a wall with his posters and gave him a severe beating.
His only sin was depicting the word "Coexist" in which the letter "C" takes the form of a Muslim crescent, the "X" forms part of the Jewish Star of David and the "T" takes the form of a Christian crucifix.
The incident took place when the spirit of unity generated by the "Je Suis Charlie" slogan had started to fade away after the attacks on the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly and a Jewish supermarket, in which 17 people were killed.
On Jan 30, Combo was beaten severely enough to be admitted to a hospital emergency room.
After he recovered, the Arab World Institute in Paris invited him to distribute the same large format poster he was posting at the time of his beating outside their facilities.
With a bruised eye and arm in a cast, Combo affixed and handed out posters with his design on them in a bid to symbolise all that French society has questioned since the bloody attacks: identity, religion, secularism, education, tolerance and coexistence.
Combo, 28, was born in the French city of Amiens near the Belgian border, with a Christian Lebanese father and Muslim Moroccan mother.
The street artist claims to have been "educated in French and at a secular school" at a time when problems of religious coexistence had not yet emerged.
Combo re-used the "coexist" slogan that had been originally devised by the Polish artist Piotr Mlodozenic in 2001 in Jerusalem, where it referred to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Coexist" reflects the Combo style, which is characterised by the directness of the message it delivers and perhaps has also been influenced by his brief stint at the School of Fine Arts and work in advertising agencies.
"In France, we have 50,000 Muslim soldiers who protect our country," says one of his graffiti murals, usually created at night in little more than 10 minutes, often with help from his colleagues to save time.
Combo has travelled to Chernobyl to protest against nuclear power, to Los Angeles to spark a debate on the legalisation of cannabis with portraits of Barack Obama smoking pot, to Hong Kong to paper the streets with pages of Google search engine that are censored by the authorities in Beijing, and to Beirut where he launched the "Jih-art" campaign in 2014 to denounce extremist jihad.
"It is a way of mimicking the slogans of jihadis and their propaganda machine," Combo said. The young artist finances his activities by working for small businesses and selling some of his art works.
On his Twitter account Feb 14, Combo wrote: "Love is blind, but religion can blind us. Happy Valentine."
" Love is blind, and religion can blind us " Bonne St Valentin a tous. #muslimjewishkiss #Quote #streetart #spraypaint #stencils #painting #pastup #graffiti #urbanart #artist #combo #combostreetart #urbangraffiti #streetartzurich #streetartparis #streetartlosangeles #streetartist #streetartlondon #streetartmontreal
Combo's tweets were accompanied by a picture of a man in an Arab-style outfit kissing another man wearing a Jewish cap, or kippah.
It is very similar to a famous cover with which "Charlie Hebdo" returned to the news-stands in 2011, following an arson attack at the weekly's premises for publishing a series of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Combo says he will not stop drawing and delivering his messages, adding that currently he is working on developing a new Jewish character, and preparing to travel to Copenhagen, the Danish capital recently targetted by violence fuelled by religious extremism.
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