Charlie Hebdo Attacks: Why Freedom of Expression Is More Important Than Ever

It has been a mere week since the extremist attacks at the Paris office of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo took place, and already millions around the world have been standing together (and still are) to unite in solidarity with the ten journalists and two police officers who were shot down and killed in the attack. Many have been using the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie across social media and marching the streets in support of Freedom of Speech, after Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad resulted in the deaths of some of the magazine’s finest writers and cartoonists (including the magazine’s Editor Stéphane Charbonnier, or ‘Charb’ as he was known). In the days that followed another four civilians and one police officer were killed before the assailants were caught and shot down.

And all because of some silly cartoons…

Now don’t get me wrong, I do not agree or respect the way the magazine depicted the Prophet Muhammad in their cartoons, as they of course provoked great offence among Muslims. I do not agree with offending religion whatsoever. In all fairness, satirical cartoonists ridicule and offend many religions, political figures and historical events. But is that not what a satirical cartoon is? Is that not the point of satire? To tease and ‘make jokes’ about serious and important situations, beliefs and events? They do not mean to offend, but to encourage us to embrace freedom of expression, make light of difficult situations and laugh about the ridiculousness of all our lives. No one should have to die in support of Freedom of Speech, especially in the case of just some mere cartoons. I, for one, am a good fan of the UK’s satirical publication Private Eye, who mock Britain’s many politicians and elite.

However, I do not appreciate how there are people out there who are expecting all Muslims to apologise for the Charlie Hebdo killings. Why? The gunmen who attacked and murdered 17 people in Paris last week do not represent all Muslims or Islam. Let us not forget Ahmed Merabet the police officer, himself a Muslim, who died heroically in defence against the attacks at the hands of his aggressors. After all, no religion condones murder, they condemn it. The vast majority of Muslims are incredibly hurt and offended by what these Islamic terrorists did to the innocent civilians of Paris last week. I have friends who are Muslim for goodness’ sake, and they cannot understand what would lead someone to such extremity of that kind. After all, if it is true that we are all children of God, then what right does one man have to take another man’s life? None. Absolutely zilch.

Nonetheless, Freedom of Speech and expression is a human right and cannot be destroyed, manipulated or threatened to any degree. We all have the right to express individual opinions and speculations; we all have the right to be artistic and creative with words, both written and in conversation; we all have the right to argue our respective concepts, beliefs and perceptions on all matters paramount and trivial. Otherwise how can we be human? Be exempt from constraint?

In an article I recently wrote for  student publication Wessex Scene, I demonstrated my annoyance and anger at how these men, these murderers, had tried so desperately to collapse our deception of Free Speech by killing innocent journalists in a manner so brutal and unjust. And what good came of it? Nothing. Nothing but pain, grief, fury and despair. But hear this; it has made many stronger in enforcing the right of free expression and language. It has reminded us of the importance of being able to speak freely and to laugh in the face of judgement. And how we should embrace that right. After all, if Charlie Hebdo got back on their high horse despite these attacks, then let that be a lesson for all of us.

So next time you pick up that pen, do not be afraid to write. Just write and scribble away to your heart’s content. ‘Fuck’ simple conformity, welcome originality. Just don’t take a life over another’s opinion…





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