On Jan. 7, three gunmen walked into the offices of satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people including the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief, several influential cartoonists, and members of the Parisian police.
Charlie Hebdo was targeted for its highly-critical opinions about radical Islam, but in truth Charlie Hebdo was attacked for daring to express an opinion–an opinion which Charlie Hebdo cartoonists stood by until their deaths.
It is important for all media outlets and, indeed, all people who want to live in a world where rationality prevails, to stand with Charlie Hebdo.
The cartoons found within the pages of Charlie Hebdo are shocking, vulgar, and frequently offensive, and it is okay to take issue with the opinions found therein. But truly standing for free speech means standing for even that speech we find offensive, shocking, or vulgar.
Free speech is the cornerstone of a functioning, rational society. This is true for people in all walks of life, from satirists and journalists to the average person on the street.
For example, imagine how different history would be if newspapers were censored when attempting to publish the Pentagon Papers. Richard Nixon, an almost unimaginably popular President, would have finished his term out without issue, and the world would have never learned of his corruption and his questionable war techniques in Vietnam and Cambodia.
Satirical publications, like Charlie Hebdo in France or The Onion in the United States, shock the reader into considering new ways of thinking about the world. And there’s a long history of this in the Western World.
Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” is not just a fanciful traveler’s tale, but is rather a criticism of England’s treatment of its colonies, especially Ireland. Charlie Chaplin’s film “The Great Dictator” made fun of Adolf Hitler years before the United States decided to do anything about him.
These works of art helped bring to the public’s attention things in the world that were unjust and inappropriate. Artists today continue this tradition. Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons and the recent Seth Rogen and James Franco film “The Interview” attempt to expose the horrors caused by radical Islam and communist North Korea, respectively, through the use of humor.
And here’s the thing: it is working. It must be, or else no one would have wanted to silence Charlie Hebdo or Rogen and Franco. Satire changes the world, and the last thing Al Qaeda or North Korea want is change.
In a time where journalists are beheaded for running stories critical of ISIS–or perhaps we should refer to them as Daesh, the name they hate so much–Charlie Hebdo refused to stand down, and continued to run cartoons criticizing radical and militant Islam.
And they still refuse. They published their next issue on time, in spite of the tragedy that befell them, with seven million copies in print–far more than their usual printing. They will not be silenced.
Their courage should be a lesson to all people in the media. It would be easy to take less critical stances against groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, but this would mean that the bravery of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists was in vain.
Instead, media outlets should have the courage to take strong stances against radical and militant groups. The consequences could be dire, that is certain. But to do anything less would be a disservice to both the reader and the world at large.