Thomas Donlan of Barron’s explores the massive rally honoring those killed in an attack on the offices of a satirical magazine in Paris.

When nearly three million French people gathered in the streets of Paris on Jan. 11, some of their friends came from around the world to lend their support in memory of the victims of a terrible crime. Like the French, many of the foreigners carried signs saying, “Je suis Charlie.” All of the millions thus supported Charlie Hebdo’s unrestrained brand of free speech, for which 12 people paid with their lives.

For the most part, however, the millions were giving cautious support. Few marchers for free speech in principle went so far as to be Charlie, to display the cartoons that still outrage Muslims the world over, an offense that too many feel should be redeemed in blood.

Those lining up in the parade’s front row with President François Hollande included some strange parade-fellows, notably Israeli President Bibi Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. These men usually spend more effort disgracing the causes of Zionism and Palestinian statehood; this time, they were standing up for peace with humor.

We hope they both meant it. The world would be a better place if more of its peoples could accept and appreciate the messages of irreverent cartoons.

Those not standing up for the right to laugh at murderous fanatics included President Barack Obama. He didn’t even send Vice President Joe Biden, who of course was not otherwise occupied. Neither man was making any public appearance or statement on the day of the march; nor did they attend the march in Washington that echoed the one in Paris.

The missing president missed an opportunity to make a very useful point: Even if Obama did not go to Paris, he could have asked former President George W. Bush to represent the country there. Showing Bush supporting free speech and opposing terrorism in France would have reminded the world of Sept. 11, 2001, and of the following day, when le Monde headlined a front-page editorial, “Nous sommes tous Américains.”