Dr Elsa Cayat
BORN SFAX TUNISIA, MARCH 9, 1960. DIED PARIS, JANUARY 7, 2015, AGED 55
THE ONLY woman to be murdered by terrorists at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris — allegedly because she was a Jew — the eminent psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Dr Elsa Cayat, had expressed concerns about death threats the previous month.
The jihadists had called her a “dirty Jew” and warned her to stop working for the paper. Her younger brother Frederick tried to reassure her. “We decided they were only verbal garbage”, he said. “We didn’t think it could actually happen”.
But because the killers spared other women at the office, her grieving family believe this was the reason she, unlike the other women, was murdered. “It seems she was selected to be executed because she was Jewish”, said her cousin, TV producer and author Sophie Bramly.
Over the last three years, Dr Cayat had written a broad-based fortnightly column for the paper, Charlie Divan (Charlie on the Couch) intended to lend a psychiatric slant to a broad range of issues from parental authority to the Holocaust. In actual fact, Dr Cayat often based her journalism on the experiences of her anonymous patients.
Born in Tunisia, the daughter of a
Dr Elsa Cayat: psychiatry and satirical cartoons made unlikely bedfellows gastroenterologist and card-carrying Communist and his wife, who worked in law, she was one of three children; an older sister Beatrice as well as younger brother Frederick. As a young child, she moved with her family to the Vin- cennes suburb of Paris and they spent weekends at their country home in nearby Dourdan. But despite — or perhaps because of —these idyllic material trappings, home life was far from cossetting, with both high-achieving parents insisting on academic rigour.
Cayat was a qualified doctor by the age of 21 and went on to study psychiatry. The hallmarks of her success included exceptional empathy and long hours; she gave generously of her time and energy to her patients, who tended to be upper-class intellectuals, willing to pay the high fees which earned her a practice in Avenue Mozart in the 16th arrondissement.
A more literary life followed the publication of her two books: first in 1998, Un Homme + Une Femme = Quoi?, And then nine years later Le Désir et Le Putain, which translates as Desire and the Whore.
Both books reflect Dr Cayat’s stimulating and challenging intellect and it was these qualities which, almost inevitably, drewherthreeyearsagotohercolleague Stephane Charbonnier, Charlie Hebdo’s editor (who was also murdered in the attack)andhistalentedteam,whomshe saw as kindred spirits.
Success in her own career proved to be the crucible, a fervent attraction of ideas between the psychiatrist and the caricaturists of Charlie Hebdo. The result was Le Divan, an intelligent and questioning column.
To a reader who asked if it was possible for partners to love each other equally, Cayat replied:
“No, it’s not possible. But then, why should it be exactly equal? Love is a flu- id, mobile emotion that moves according to the time and circumstances but is basically there. Because it’s easier to love than to hate.”
She urged readers in her last published column, La Capacité de S’Aimer (The capacity to love oneself) to open up and make room for others — a feat she concedes is very difficult.
In some ways Elsa Cayat viewed her profession much as an alchemist might do. “The goal of psychoanalysis”, she said “is to turn back time” to enable people to regain “the openmindedness they had as a child”.
While Charlie Hebdo is noted for its irreverent attitude to at everything, from religious figures to politicians, a cynosure for those looking for satirical, edgy humour, Dr Cayat’s column was proof of the deeper complexity within its journalism, which included politics, sociology and economics.
In her column, she drew on her own studies of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, an influential figure within the Paris intelligentsia of the ’60s and ’70s, combined with her own experience .
In their survivors’s issue, published in tribute to the most meaningful work of their murdered colleagues, the Charlie Hebdo editors chose her column advocating tolerance and acceptance of the differences in others.