At least two gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French newspaper known for its satirical content, on Wednesday in Paris.
Firstly, I’m not one to often get overly involved in world events (Facebook friends may disagree). I do watch the news quite often, trying my best to view these stories from multiple sources and to remain objective whenever possible, but sometimes that is incredibly hard to do, almost to the point of being an impossibility. Grief is an emotion to be expected after tragedy strikes, but it too often turns to anger.
As a firm believer in having the right to both free speech and free press, this whole situation at Charlie Hebdo had me completely baffled. What a world we live in where people are still killing in the name of religion; it sounds like something straight out of a history book. All this death and savagery in response to what? A drawing. The deadliest terrorist attack in France since the early 1960s over a satirical drawing.
Lord Bryon once said in English Bars, and Scotch Reviewers (1809), “I’ll publish, right or wrong: / Fools are my theme, let satire be my song.” Fools are most definitely Charlie Hebdo’s theme, and satire is also their song.
Is satire nature’s noblest gift then? The mighty instrument of little men? Is the pen really mightier than the sword? The internet seems to think so.
Since the incident occurred, many artists, cartoonists, and animators from all over the world are showing their support via social networking, using their own artwork, often with the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie, which is still trending worldwide as of the time this blog post is written. CNN tweeted that “#JeSuisCharlie has become one of the most popular hashtags in @Twitter’s history”. These artists seem to be saying en masse: You don’t mess around with basic human rights such as freedom of speech or press.
Seriously, go to Google and type in #JeSuisCharlie, and look at the images tab. You’ll see just how many people have shown their support via their own drawings in protest of this barbaric attack. The New Yorker’s January 19th issue, for example, will feature the Eiffel Tower standing in a sea of red that turns into a sharpened pencil at the top.
Seeing this overwhelming support is heartwarming to me. In our everyday lives, death is something that we’re disastrously desensitized to, due in part to our mass media culture. I have a new-found respect for the men and women of Charlie Hebdo. For years, extremists have threatened them over their satirical cartoons (are they the South Park of France?). In 2011, Charlie Hebdo a picture of Muhammad with the words, “100 lashes of the whip if you don’t die laughing” on an issue that was “guest edited” by the Prophet Muhammad himself. This is not to mention when they mocked the death of then-president Charles de Gaulle all the way back in 1970. They were known for their no-holds-barred brand of mockery.
Their headquarters was firebombed shortly after the 2011 incident, and badly damaged, but that didn’t stop them from carrying on. Charb, editor of Charlie Hebdo (and one of the recently murdered), told the French press after the original firebomb attempt: “I am not afraid of reprisals. I have no children, no wife, no car, no debt. It might sound a bit pompous, but I prefer to die on my feet rather than living on my knees.” They even announced a special issue for publication, renamed “Charia Hebdo,” a play on words (Sharia law). Not only that, but even after everything that has happened in the past few days, the Washington Post states that Charlie Hebdo promises to release one million copies of its next issue.
This doesn’t mean that you have to support the newspaper’s opinions, but you must respect their right to have those opinions. To me, there is no degree of speech that justifies a violent response, no matter what the circumstances.
While this was a horrific attack on free speech/press, I must applaud French authorities for handling the situation to the best of their abilities. It is now confirmed that both of the initial shooters suspected of attacking Charlie Hebdo are dead, killed by security forces in Dammartin-en-Goel earlier today. I sincerely hoped they would be taken alive, but if it means the safety of the remaining hostages (four were reportedly killed prior to the raid). Another hostage-taker, likely related/linked to the two brothers had also been killed as well in a separate hostage situation according to multiple sources.
While nowhere near best-case scenario, I am glad that Charlie Hebdo is taking the initiative and standing their ground on this front. May both freedom of speech and freedom of press live on forever.