Je Suis Charlie

By: Lizzie Poulos

As many of those reading this article know, on January 7th at 11:30 in the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, two gunman affiliated with Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch opened fire, killing 11 staff members and one French National Police officer. The reason for the attack? It was in response to a cartoon published by the magazine displaying an image of the prophet Muhammad, which is considered blasphemous by the majority of the Islamic world. The cartoon was criticizing the fact that groups such as ISIS or Al-Qaeda are very quick to forget the peaceful teachings of Muhammad in pursuit of their own interpretation of the Quran’s words. One of the more famous examples of these cartoons displays Muhammad being decapitated by a member of ISIS for voicing his protest of their actions:

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Although this cartoon and the others that portray Muhammad are obviously offensive to many Muslims in France and around the world, the French government continues to support the right of Charlie Hebdo to publish whatever they wish and their right to the freedom of speech. One week later, the magazine released a new issue that displayed an image of the prophet on the cover holding a sign that reads “Je suis Charlie” (the slogan for those who support Charlie Hebdo’s right to freedom of speech), shedding a tear for those lost and saying “Tout est pardonné”–all is forgiven:

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Although at its base this tragedy began with the loss of 12 innocent French citizens, it became much more than that, reigniting the debate about freedom of speech vs. respect of religion. There are several important things to remember when considering this complex situation. First, France continues to hold its strict principle of “laïcité”, or the separation of church and state. Under this term, people are free to express religion privately but not in the public sphere. In addition, under this principle, the French support the freedom of speech above all, no matter how blasphemous or offensive something might be. Charlie Hebdo is known for its “no topic is off limits” mentality, as everyone from American politicians to the Pope have been subjects of their satire in the past. It is my opinion that although it is important to consider the impact of what we say, or rather what we publish, as members of the free world it is imperative that we protect the freedom of speech at all costs.

One of the things I heard repeatedly from my friends, family, and peers the day of the attack was “they (Charlie Hebdo) were kind of asking for it.” In my opinion, it is thinking like this that plagues our culture today. We push violence off as being somehow justified because the victims were being provocative and expressing their right to the freedom of speech. Violence of this kind is never justified, even if those perpetrating it claim to be defending religion. It is important to make the distinction that these men who claim to be Muslim were entirely ignoring Islam’s emphasis on love and nonviolence. Islam is not a religion that encourages violence, for it has become another victim of extremists corrupting and twisting portions of holy thought as a justification for the unjust. There are numerous quotes from the Quran (Islam’s holy book) that affirm Islam is a nonviolent religion:

“Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggressors.” (2:190)

Clearly, this quote from the Quran states that God neither supports nor loves “aggressors” such as these gunmen who took 12 lives on that morning in January. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad explicitly stated that above all Muslims should forgive those who they believe have done wrong against them:

“Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong to them. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong even if they do evil.” (Al-Tirmidhi)

Claiming that Charlie Hebdo was “asking for it” not only discredits the right to the freedom of speech, but it also legitimizes Al-Qaeda’s extremist and incorrect interpretation of Islam as a religion that encourages violence. Instead, we must defend our right to the freedom of speech and not forget that extremist acts of violence are never justified.