What Charlie Hebdo Taught Us – Three Months On
Three months ago, shock and disbelief were felt by people all around the world as news of the massacre at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo spread. The satirical magazine, which has been the subject of controversy in the past, was the victim of a terrorist attack of extreme proportions and somehow, especially for Europeans, this attack hit particularly close to home. Although the #jesuischarlie hashtags are no longer flooding our timelines and news feeds, it is important to remember the main messages which emerged in the aftermath of the attacks.
The two themes which emerged immediately following the attacks were the importance of freedom of speech, and the fact that extremists are not representative of their religion as a whole. The recent attacks in Tunisia and the ensuing Islamophobia demonstrate the current importance of the second, but firstly, freedom of speech. Freedom is a fundamental concept in French society in particular, demonstrated by the fact that the three core values of French society are “liberté, égalité, fraternité”: liberty, equality and fraternity. Although freedom of speech is something that is often taken for granted by people in developed, Western countries, attacks like the one on the Charlie Hebdo offices show that we must continue to fight for our right to express ourselves. As some of the slogans in support of the French in January pointed out, satirical magazines such as Charlie Hebdo used ink to express their ideas and differences of opinion regarding extremists, for example, rather than senseless violence. The editor of the magazine who was killed in the shooting, Stéphane Charbonnier, was famously quoted as saying, “I prefer to die standing than living on my knees,” proving just how devoted he was to protecting freedom of speech.
After attacks such as these, it is of utmost importance for the horrified citizens of the country that has been made a victim — as well as press around the world — to separate the extremists from the religions that they purport to be defending. In this case of Charlie Hebdo, the terrorists claimed to be acting in the name of Islam. However, as many religious leaders were at pains to remind the public, Islam is a religion that actively promotes peace, and after other attacks carried out by Islamic extremists, many Imams have come out to publicly condemn this misuse of their holy scriptures. Not only are extremists (by definition) not a representation of their religion as a whole, but some would also say that they do not represent their religion in the slightest. Instead, they taint the reputations of these religions — when Islam is covered in the media, it is tragically often due to terrorist groups twisting peaceful ideologies to justify their violence.
Although every week brings new tragedies, the Charlie Hebdo massacre was particularly important in reminding people living in the Western world just how lucky we are to be able to say whatever we like without fear of prosecution, and just how important it is to fight for this right, both in our own countries, and for others who are less able to speak up for themselves. The world has moved on from #jesuischarlie, but the events will always be remembered as uniting Europeans to stand strong together in defense of one of our most important rights — freedom of speech.
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