Freedom of Speech and the Charlie Hebdo Attack

Freedom of Speech and the Charlie Hebdo Attack

Je suis Charlie. Those three words have become a rallying cry around the world following the horrific attack on the Parisian satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead. The atrocity occurred after the magazines cover featured a comic depicting and lampooning the Prophet Muhammad, something a large number of Muslims find offensive. Just four days later 1.6 million people and more than 40 world leaders marched in the streets of Paris to signify their unified support for freedom of speech and against terrorism.

It may be hard for some Americans to relate with Muslims around the world. According to a Pew Research study on religion in America only 0.6% are of Islamic faith. This is in stark contrast to France which was 7.5% Muslim in 2010 according to another Pew study. This is both the highest concentration and overall population of Muslims in Europe and is rising. When considering the attacks on Charlie Hebdo one must account for this. Not only was the cover a jab at Middle Eastern terrorists it offends the millions of Muslims living in France.

One week later Charlie Hebdo returned to newsstands. On the cover the Prophet Muhammad holds a sign reading ‘Je suis Charlie’ with the caption “tout est pardonne,” which translates into English as all is forgiven. This cover clearly shows the appropriate use of the freedoms countless people around the world are calling to protect. The key word there is appropriate. As Khaled Diab of Al Jazeera shows, the Prophet Muhammad would have condemned the attacks.

This leaves us somewhere in the middle. Just because someone has freedom of speech should they use it? We must remember that freedoms are rights and responsibilities. While Charlie Hebdo had the right to do what they did, were they not responsible for possible outcry? One major misconception in America is that freedom of speech protects you from accountability. Freedom of speech does not allow people to rewind or unsay something. Charlie Hebdo can not undo the cover that led to the largest terrorist attack in France in a half century. What they and all of those using their freedoms can do is view them as a responsibility. Whether that be the average person, a news service or me writing this, we all must do our part to watch what we say. Not out of fear, but out of respect. Criticize all you want, praise what you believe deserves praise, but do not disrespect just because you can.


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