Charlie Hebdo and Freedom of Speech

Charlie Hebdo and Freedom of Speech
On January 7, 2015, Muslim extremists attacked the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, a publication known for its controversial cartoons, resulting in the deaths of 12 people, including a Muslim police officer. Since then, the world has been both mourning the deaths of those 12 people and standing up for the human right of the freedom of speech by declaring Je Suis Charlie, “I am Charlie,” on social media.

The attack has brought once again to the attention of the world the importance of free speech and the power it holds in our culture. How it is a right that must be respected and protected. But something that has troubled me about this news story is the particular free speech that everyone has been standing up for.

As I said before, Charlie Hebdo is known for its controversial cartoons. What I mean by “controversial” is racist and offensive. The cartoons that triggered the attacks were blasphemous to the Muslim faith. They were blatantly racist and openly suggestive and rude. Is this the type of free speech we should stand up for? Should we be advocating publications that openly mock peoples of other faiths?

And the problem isn’t just that this publication mocked people, even though that is an awful thing to do. It also made it okay for other people to mock people and to see things in a racist way which, in a way, is even worse than the original offensive content. Their influence reached many people and lulled people into believing it was okay to make racist jokes or believe racist things. And that is wrong.

So while free speech is important and something we should protect, we should also remember that we don’t live in a vacuum and that our words affect others. Everything we say can and does influence those who comes in contact with it, for good or bad. We can’t necessarily stop others from using offensive language and images, but we can control ourselves. As human rights activists, we should use language in a way that makes the world a better, brighter place.


Note: I am in no way blaming Charlie Hebdo for the terror attack and I of course do not believe they deserved to be attacked. I believe it was a tragic incident that never should have happened and I mourn the loss of life along with everyone else.


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