by Susanna Pilkerton
On January 7 the staff of Charlie Hebdo’s day was brought to a screeching halt. The weekly editorial meeting had begun when it was interrupted by gunshots, moments later two masked gunmen appeared asking for the editor of the magazine, Stephane Charbonnier, as well as four of the magazine’s cartoonists by name. What began as a regular Wednesday ended in tragedy, with 11 people killed in total and another 12 injured. As the assailants left the building they were caught on film proclaiming, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad,” leading investigators to believe that main motive of the attack was for retribution for the magazine’s past portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad.
The satirical magazine has been described as “a more gleefully and pointedly offensive politically conscious French Mad magazine (with which it shares an affection for vulgarity and distaste for subtlety)” by gawker.com and has been put on blast on multiple occasions for its depictions of Muhammad. One of those times was in the fall of 2011 when Hebdo’s offices were firebombed. The initial attack in 2011 came as an effort to stop the printing of a special “guest edited” issue of Charlie Hebdo; the “guest editor” was the Prophet Muhammad. The firebombing did not have the desired effect as the issue was already on its way to publishers, and the magazine went ahead with the issue.
The shooting in January began a movement. All across the globe people are standing up in protest declaring Je Suis Charlie, I am Charlie. From social media to protests, their sentiment is heard: this is not okay.
But why? Why Je Suis Charlie, what does this mean, and how does it affect Americans? America is a country and an ocean away from France; most Americans can’t even read Charlie Hebdo. The reason why is simple, in fact it’s the reason that this article can be written, and that you can read it whenever and wherever you’d like: freedom of speech. In America, the right to say and do as you please is taken for granted, as an innate human right. In France too, freedom of speech is considered a basic inalienable right.
Merely hours after the attack, French President Francois Hollande responded in a televised broadcast, vowing to protect the message of freedom of speech that the magazine's journalists and cartoonists represented. In his address, President Hollande spoke to the terrorists, saying that this was not only an attack on Charlie Hebdo and France’s freedom of speech, but an attack on “the entire republic” as well. It was not long after the President’s public proclamation that the French government would protect its citizen's freedom of speech that the state went against its own words. Within a week of the Presidential address there were as many as 54 arrests for things such as “shouting obscenities at police” and posting controversial material on social media, reported Paul Kirby with BBC News. Many of the controversial postings did have pro-terrorist messages, but many wonder if these arrests are a double-standard. Supporters of those who were detained point out that while the recent actions and words of those in question were not politically correct, Charlie Hebdo has run for years of off “tasteless lampooning of the establishment” and is being supported by the French government, said BBC News.
Now back to America. Many observers say that President Hollande was right, that the attack on Charlie Hebdo was an attack on both freedom of speech and on the whole republic; this opinion is shared by bystanders around the world. Many protesters around the world have realized the truth in President Hollande’s statement and are taking a stand in a movement called “Je Suis Charlie.” The attack on Charlie Hebdo was an attack on freedom of speech worldwide. Again, back to the initial question, how does this affect Americans? Although President Hollande has publicly stated that the French government supports their citizen’s right of the freedom of speech, the government’s actions have said otherwise. Recently in America, many citizens have feared that there is racism at work within the police force, resulting in a distrust of the police themselves. Citizens have protested, even rioted, in dissent over recent police actions, and they were fully within their right to do this. No matter what else is going on, Americans still have freedom of speech. This is why America is Charlie; Je Suis Charlie.
The Dominican Beat would like to extend their condolences to those affected by the attacks on Charlie Hebdo. Our thoughts go to the friends and families of Frédéric Boisseau, Franck Brinsolaro, Jean Cabut, Elsa Cayat, Stéphane Charbonnier, Phillip Honoré, Bernard Maris, Ahmed Merabet, Mustapha Ourrad, Michel Renaud, Bernard Verlhac, and Georges Wolinski.