The internet is exploding with these words. People across the world of every age, race and religion are condemning this attack on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo magazine. This ruthless violence claimed the lives of 12 people. What was their mistake? They tried to inject humor into instances which usually go unnoticed. They spoke their minds through their cartoons. That was their only crime. They exercised their right to the freedom of speech and expression. And they were silenced for that. You woke up the same way you have in recent weeks- after the Sydney attack, the Peshawar school massacre and the months of ISIS atrocities. You felt disheartened and hopeless about the world, thanked your God that you and your loved ones are safe, and prayed for those who died. I hope this is how most of us reacted but I know I might be wrong as many must have reacted with prejudice and quick judgments which might not sound politically correct. The latter behavior is what I am concerned with. You have to watch what you say publically if you don’t want a gun pointing at your head.
Charlie Hebdo, satirical French magazine, has been operational since 1969. The magazine changed its name from Hara-Kiri Hebdo to Charlie Hebdo after a government ban, thus taking its name from the Peanuts character Charlie Brown. The magazine is infamous for its scathing cartoons and humor, which has drawn the brunt of the government since its early years, thereby attracting several bans. It ceased publication in 1981 but was restarted in 1992. The magazine never attained huge circulation until its most famous decision in February 2006.
Charlie Hebdo decided to republish the Danish cartoons which were receiving disapprobation for the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed, along with some of their own cartoons. There was a boost in circulation from 100,000 to 160,000 with more being ordered for the next day print. This was followed up by an edition in 2011 where the Prophet was the ‘guest editor’. The cover went viral and Charlie Hebdo had its first brush with violence in the form of fire-bombing at its office in November 2011: their website was also hacked. All this culminated into the deadliest attack in France since 1961 which has now left most people in shock.
On January 7th 2015, the suspects, Said Kouachi, Cherif Kouachi and Hamyd Mourad attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris killing 12 people. Those who were killed included Stephane Charbonnier, the editor of the magazine, France’s famous cartoonists- Jean Cabut, George Wolinski, Bernard Verlhac, aka Tignous, Economist and writer- Bernard Maris along with two policemen who were there to protect the magazine and the editor after numerous past threats. Mr Mourad has surrendered to the police while the search for the other two suspects is still on.
The only two issues which are being overwhelmingly discussed right now are these- the threat to freedom of press and the intolerance of one religion. One fact which is not being discussed is how Charlie Hebdo mocked many mainstream cultural issues but of them all, only the Islam cartoons drew attention. There were cartoons even about France’s politics, carrying forward a legacy of irreverence and satire since the French Revolution.
In a fashion similar to the Sydney attack, a Twitter hashtag has become famous- Je Suis Charlie ( I am Charlie).. You are Charlie Hebdo. Yes, you my reader- the voracious commenter. The Internet is your magazine which you candidly use, to put forth your opinions and views. Now let’s imagine that as we are ready to mock or make a statement which might not be agreeable to someone somewhere, a gun pops out of our phone or computer screen. Imagine being shot at for a “Tweet”. Is this what we have come to now? Are you ready to justify it?
Cartoons and satire are always open to controversies. Charlie Hebdo had its share of controversies. There was also room for criticism of the publication which was done by various Muslim groups in France. But that didn’t seem to bother them. The magazine was even taken to court over the 2006 cartoons. Charlie Hebdo tried to look at the world in a way which differs from you and me- away from the glasses of religion and censorship. If you don’t agree to their views or have problems with the content their publications, try not giving them any attention or, if it pleases you, taking them to court under legal allegations.
The greater universal truth is that no one deserves death for an opinion or expression- not a cartoonist questioning society or a facebook user expressing his frustration, be it any religion, colour or gender. The people labeled as ‘terrorists’ who take the law into their own hands here and everywhere by threatening journalists, educators and thinkers on their lives- give more credence to an age old statement than any book or essay. The pen is mightier than the sword.
The world is a generally decent place. The hateful are often weeded out of the mainstream and reside on the fringes. The truth is that the cartoons were never meant to be taken seriously. But, lines have been crossed and its too late to take back what has already been done. Taking matter into one’s own hand is never the solution to anything. There are legal ways to deal with what went down at Charlie Hebdo. And if such a simple thing cannot be understood, then I must say it’s a shame. There is a reason why the judge sits in the powerful chair at the court house. There is a reason the law exists. There is a reason people have rights of their own. And if someone strips you of your rights, then you have been wronged and stripped of your freedom.
Only question that remains at the end. What message do we send to our so promising future generations with these incidents? Is this really the type of world we want to present to these enthusiastic souls when our time comes and we leave everything to them?
About the Author
Prachi Jain is a third year student pursuing her B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) from Mody University. Being a law student, she is interested in the political framework of different countries and likes reading on international issues. She loves blogging and runs her own blog. Besides that, she is very passionate about dance and is also associated with an NGO in Madhya Pradesh. Currently, she is interning with the Model Governance Foundation.