Verbum Ultimum: Stand with Charlie
On Wednesday, three gunmen stormed the Paris office of the satirical French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and shot and killed 12 people. The shooters asked for certain cartoonists by name.
The tragedy has made international headlines, and people remain stunned and appalled worldwide. We stand with the victims’ friends, families and coworkers in the aftermath of this unconscionable attack.
Satirical publications often provide cutting insight into important issues in an accessible, entertaining way. Satire holds a mirror up to society and is thus a crucial component of a free press and, by extension, a free world. Nobody should fear for their life for exposing and critiquing the world as they see it.
The gunmen’s supposed justification for this heinous crime stems from Charlie Hebdo’s satire regarding Islamic extremism. The magazine has previously published cartoons that depict the Prophet Muhammad, and their offices were firebombed for doing so in 2011. The magazine’s critiques, however, are not limited to Islam. Charlie Hebdo lampoons religion in general — one 2013 cover depicted a cartoon mocking Pope Benedict XVI. Charlie Hebdo, like similar publications, seeks to challenge the status quo and foster dialogue through scathing humor. Many staff members have said that their mission is not to mock religion, but religious extremism of all forms.
The limits to which any given religion or culture may be mocked merit examination, but, ultimately, it does not matter if what the magazine printed was inconsiderate or offensive. Twelve people are dead. Cultural sensitivity and productive political discourse can never come at such an expense. These acts are indefensible.
Indeed, French Muslim leaders and the Arab League have condemned the attack. Other Muslims across the world have followed suit, using hashtags such as #CharlieHebdo in solidarity with those killed. Al-Azhar, an elite Islamic university, called the shooting a “criminal act” and reminded the world that “Islam denounces any violence.”
Despite this outpouring of support, there have been reports of aggressive incidents of retaliation against members of the Muslim community in France. We must condemn any hateful acts of violence that target innocent Muslims. Anti-Muslim sentiment, too, creates a threat to a free society.
It is notable that France has the highest estimated Muslim population in Europe, with at least six million Muslim residents. France’s troubled history with the Muslim-majority nations of its former colonial empire — particularly Algeria, where there was a bloody struggle for independence in the 1950s and 1960s — lends itself to high tensions, perceived or otherwise, between its Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Far-right parties, like the National Front, are becoming increasingly anti-immigrant and anti-Islam. Attacks like the one on Charlie Hebdo do nothing but confirm the biases of intolerant people who falsely see Islam as nothing but a violent, extreme religion.
Yet the stronger anti-Islam sentiment is, and the greater its impact on politics and society, the more terrorist organizations like the Islamic State can garner support — especially among the youth. The Islamic State has inspired and encouraged rogue actors, as the attackers on Charlie Hebdo are presumed to be. People from all around the world have been joining or trying to join their ranks.
Even in the face of tragedies such as this, we must remain strong, compassionate and reasoned. This was not an Islamic attack on the West. Three individuals, masquerading under the banner of Islam, murdered innocent people to permanently take away their right to free speech. The slain journalists at Charlie Hebdo understood what was at stake. As Stephane Charbonnier, the editor and one of those tragically killed, said in 2012, “I prefer to die standing than to live on my knees.” Defending the liberty of all to live without the threat of violent retribution, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, is the only way forward.