On Jan. 7 in France, two men entered the building of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and opened fire on the people within. Several were killed, and even more were injured. People from Paris and all over the globe felt the shock and trauma of the incident.
Soon afterward, we saw an outpouring of “Je suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie,” as a sign of standing strong with the victims.
So, what was the reason for this horrendous act? A publication of the satirical magazine had depicted the Prophet Muhammad. For many Muslims, this came off as a very rude offense. Here’s why.
Now, whether you believe it or not, I can assure that what these men did was in no way justified through the religion of Islam.
I, of course, condemn this violence, as does pretty much every other Muslim on earth who has an inkling of what their religion actually teaches.
Considering this, the incident brought up many questions, espe- cially: how free should free speech be?
The Paris incident caused a lot of uproar because the publication came off as offensive to the wider Muslim community. Although this offense in no way justified the subsequent killings, it was an offense nonetheless.
And yet, many in the world were quick to back up the Hebdo magazine and say the publication was within its rights to express whatever the staff wanted to.
On the other hand, there were those who disagreed, including Pope Francis. In his recent visit to Sri Lanka, he made the point that there are certain topics that cannot be fully protected by the umbrella of “free speech,” and that we as people should try to be respectful of others’ beliefs. We don’t have to agree with them, but we don’t have to insult them either. I think this is something that has escaped a lot of people.
We hear a lot about free speech— how people, publications and organizations should all have the right to freely express their opinions. And to a certain point, I agree. However, at the same time, nothing can be totally black and white. After all, we still have laws against slander and libel, using misleading language, etc. So, where do we draw the line? Are some topics afforded more “free speech” than others?
It is true that Voltaire made a deep point when he said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” and although we saw an example of this during the Paris incident (where a Muslim police officer was killed protecting the very magazine that insulted his faith), there still must be limits.
After all, the media doesn’t ever seem fair in their coverage of different groups in general. There’s a huge problem in the media with how “Muslim” perpetrators of terrorist acts are quick to be associated with their religious beliefs, but those of other groups are not. And then everyone else wants Muslims to condemn the attacks. They shouldn’t have to, but they do. And it’s not shared in the media. Yet, when Christians or Jews commit heinous acts, no one expects them to apologize… See where I’m going here?
It seems that these biases don’t only apply to religion, however. Shortly after the shootings, a French comedian made a satirical joke about the perpetrators, but his use of free speech quickly resulted in his arrest and subsequent charges of abetting terrorism.
This again begs the question: why are some forms of free speech seen as more free than others?
I argue that humor is fine in its own right, and so are peoples’ freedoms to express opinions and beliefs. However, I would urge everyone to take into account how these freedoms are expressed, and to try to deal justly and fairly with others. It is easy to disagree without being insulting.
Unfortunately for them, the actions of the lunatic terrorists backfired, and the publication spread like wildfire due to the publicity. And so now, instead of being contained in France, it has spread throughout the world. I would like to hope that this would teach them a lesson, but I doubt people that crazy are up to learning much of anything.
However, one piece of advice I would give to everyone is to really look into everything before you act. I think it would have saved every involved party a lot of grief.
If the “Muslim” guys knew more about their religion, they wouldn’t have done this. If the Charlie Hebdo magazine had even known anything about the person they attempted to depict, they may very well not have done so.
I guess that’s one silver lining to this whole mess; #WhoIsMuhammad trending on Twitter. When we get to know people for who they really are—people like us— it becomes much more difficult to spew hatred and nasty words. Opinions are great, but they’re not always right. At least do good research before you put your free speech out for everyone to hear.