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Je Suis Charlie – No One Deserves Death For An Expression

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By Devang Pathak:

You woke up today 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. I know many must have reacted with prejudice and quick judgements which might not sound politically correct. The latter behaviour is what I am concerned with.

je suis charlie

Charlie Hebdo is a satirical French magazine which has been operational since 1969. The magazine changed its name from Hara-Kiri Hebdo to Charlie Hebdo after a government ban, taking its name from the Peanuts character Charlie Brown. The magazine is infamous for its scathing cartoons and humour which had drawn brunt of the government in its early years, including 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 flak 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 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 of its office in November 2011. Their website was also hacked. All this culminated this week into the deadliest attack in France since 1961.

On January 7th, 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. They made fun of Christianity but only the Islam cartoons drew attention. They made fun of France’s politics, carrying forward a legacy of irreverence and satire since the French Revolution.

Cartoons and satire are always controversial. It ranges from making fun of the way the world behaves- our hypocrisies and behaviour towards certain things in the world to hyperbole and crude insults. Can it go wrong or excessive? Of course it can. Charlie Hebdo had its share of controversies beside the said cartoons. There was also room for criticism of the publication which was done by various Muslim groups in France. 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. Did you not agree with them? Don’t subscribe to them.

Can we then start with taking the merits of the issue? Can we start blaming the magazine? Can we blame the terrorists? We can maybe do something else: self-reflection.

In a fashion similar to the Syndey attack, a Twitter hashtag has become famous- Je Suis Charlie ( I am Charlie). I agree with this. You are Charlie Hebdo. Yes, you my reader- the voracious commenter and Tweeter. The Internet is your magazine which you use to write your opinions and views. I do the same with my blogs and articles. Now let’s imagine that as we are ready to mock or state something which might not be agreeable to someone somewhere, a gun pops out of our phone or computer screen. Imagine being shot for a Tweet. That is what is quickly approaching.

The world is a generally decent place. The hateful and the bigoted are often weeded out of the mainstream and reside on the fringes. The same could have been the case for Charlie Hebdo if it pursued a stringently bigoted path of anti-Islam. The truth is that it didn’t and more than anything, it was never meant to be taken seriously. 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 terrorists who played a role here and everywhere in threatening journalists, educators and thinkers and even killing them- gave more credence to an age old statement than any book or essay. The pen is mightier than the sword.

I repeat my unsuccessful attempt to appeal to these extremists who function under different cloaks and beliefs, and always fail to understand one simple flaw in their fear mongering to convert, propagate or enforce- what love can conquer, a bullet never will.

You must be to comment.
  1. TheSeeker

    It’s je m’appelle Charlie. Just sayin’. 😀

  2. Babar

    There are limits to freedom of speech. For example, if you deny the holocaust, you can go to jail. Similarly, depicting a Prophet as a terrorist on the pretext of satire is full-blown hate, not freedom of speech, not to mention double standards and hypocrisy.

    Danish paper rejected Jesus cartoons

    1. D Gill

      You are correct that there is no absolute freedom of speech anywhere and that we are all morally bound at some point but still, no matter what someone says, the person disagreeing to a comment/cartoon etc has no right to kill the other person that they disagree with. That’s what people are angry about.

      No one has the right to kill/harm anyone they don’t agree with. End of story.

  3. Babar

    …the threat to freedom of press and the intolerance of one religion.

    There is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech in any country on earth. You are legally, socially, and morally bound. And it is not the intolerance of one religion, hurting the sentiments of people of any religion will cause an uproar.

    Indians burn Australian flag in protest after Sydney fashion show models wears swimsuit bearing Hindu goddess

  4. the artist

    No comment or criticism deserves violence and deaths. Anyone who kills or threatens to kill deserves no support in anyway possible.

    The most ideal way of behaviour should be criticism and satire from anyone directed towards anyone, but the reaction should certainly not be killing people or threatening people in any way.
    The criticism can either be considered and acted upon or ignored. If you disagree, then you can publish or point out why you don’t agree with it. This in turn promotes creativity and healthy arguments in the society.

    But this creativity should not contain obscenity, abusive words and violence that you would generally not show in public.

  5. Gayaz Ahmed

    Freedom of speech is a sensitive issue and yes there is no absolute freedom of speech.
    But as you said, Cartoons and satire are always controversial.
    You just cant expect them to be nice and easy. Its what they do – Look the world from a different perspective.
    Killing people and banning movies just because they are ‘hurting’ religious sentiments is totally insane.
    If we sit quite in this issue, then there may come a situation where press freedom is completely taken in the hands of extremists.
    Come – Raise your voice against this brutality…

  6. TempleTwins

    Charly Hebdo is not what you think it is, It is in the movement of the Zionist community and the Femens. This magazine was falsely liberal and against any traditions or religion. It was hopping to shock people by posting garbage on the first page. The magazine was not selling enough copies to survive, and as about all French news papers, was receiving subsidies to exist, making it a friend/slave of the government.

    It only took a few hours for the the political deputy of Israel (yes they are officially in the parliament over there) to say that ‘The cause of the massacre was because of the greater opening of many countries to accept the Palestinian state and the importation of this conflict in France.

    I am all for freedom of speech but this incident came as a propaganda to me. The terrorists conveniently left their IDs in the car and saying we killed Hebdo praise allah comes right out of a comic book. Believe what you want but this incident came as a created event.

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