-James Osborne, News Editor
The world shared a gasp of horror as we all learned about the terrorist attacks in France. On Jan. 7, 2015, terrorists attacked the city of Paris at a kosher supermarket where gunmen killed three Jewish citizens. Masked gunmen then attacked the offices of the satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 11 people and injuring 11 more at the office before murdering a police officer outside the magazine office. These unforgivable attacks were acts of evil, and a scary reminder of the dangerous world we live in. The day after the attacks, Charlie Hebdo broke record magazine sales and sold out of issues. People marched through the streets with signs saying “Je suis Charlie” which translates as “I am Charlie.” The hashtag #IAmCharlie trended across social media and became a symbol in a fight for free speech and a symbol against terrorism. These signs were held up high on Jan. 11 when over two million people, including many world leaders, marched through the streets of Paris as a symbol of unity and defiance against terror around the world. However, we should be aware of what message “I am Charlie” sends about what we represent.
As a human being I am, of course, disgusted by these acts of terror. As a journalist and cartoonist, I was very ready at first to show my support for this magazine of satire cartoons in their fight for freedom of speech, yet I had to take a step back and look at what Charlie Hebdo really publishes and think about how a Christian, and an ethical journalist, should react. Reading news articles, blogs from different writers, and researching what Charlie Hebdo is gave me a different perspective.
The terrorist attacks are said to be in response to cartoons drawn of the prophet Muhammad, an action that goes against the Muslim law to not render any image of Muhammad. Yet the purpose of these seems only to make fun of the Muslim religion; the magazine has been equally hateful to Judaism and Christianity. Cartoons like the ones that Charlie Hebdo publishes seem to be offensive just to push the limits of journalism. To display such animosity toward people and religions without cause is an abuse of the freedom of speech. That is in no way a defense of the terrorist attacks, however. No matter how bad the insult, murder is never the right answer.
The purpose of political cartoons is to use humor and satire to bring attention to abuses of power by governments, public figures, and businesses. These cartoons show issues from a unique perspective, entertain, and, at their best, inspire people and show support and patriotism. They show the opinion of the artist in a hope for change or at least, the hope to make people think more about a particular topic. Many of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons serve none of these purposes. They make fun and insult people of religion and glorify sinful acts. Cartooning is a form of communication, and like any form of communication, it should be used responsibly. Cartoons are powerful because many visual images transcend language and almost anyone can understand the basic message of the cartoon.
Freedom of speech is often abused around the world. The right to speak evil of others and to demean their religion should not be a freedom fought for. Freedom of speech was originally intended for the common people to be able to speak against the government without fear of punishment. Freedom of speech and expression was never meant for entertainment that is filled with coarse language, extreme violence, public expressions that threaten others, or pornographic images.
In a bold act of retaliation, the Charlie Hebdo magazine published even more images of Muhammad to which terrorist groups have attacked churches in Niger in response.
There has been a small outcry that the media and world officials have focused on the Paris attacks, but there has been very little attention on the slaughter of over 2,000 people in the Nigerian city of Baga which began on Jan. 3 and continued for days. The same lack of attention was given to the 47 people killed by a car bomb in Yemen the same day as the Charlie Hebdo attack. The media and the world have forgotten about the 200 girls that were abducted in Nigeria months ago which brought about the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign. Thankfully, some cartoonists and journalists are bringing attention to these horrors as well, asking why the media focus was only on the attacks in Paris.
If a society is to truly be free then there must be a free press with free speech. No one can deny that a free society needs good, unhindered journalism. Yet, as a Christian, I cannot agree with what a publication like Charlie Hebdo stands for and produces.
I am a Christian, a journalist, and a cartoonist, but no, I am not Charlie. Je ne suis pas Charlie.