When millions took to the streets of several French cities one Sunday in January, chanting "Je suis Charlie" and holding hands, the demonstrations were seen around the world as those of a country united in grief but defiant in its defence of freedom of expression. Suddenly, everybody was Charlie.

After the Jan. 7 assassination of a dozen people in the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo by two radicalized Muslim gunmen, and the subsequent attack on a Jewish supermarket by another self-styled jihadi, it seemed all of France stood as one against terrorism.

So, why are so many members of the intelligentsia and political class now at each other's throats in post-Charlie France? Big societal debates are never exactly polite in France. But the level of vitriol in this verbal slugfest is off the charts.

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