By Kara Worrells
What happens when a controversial opinion suddenly breaks through to the public eye? The reactions can vary along a spectrum of extremities.
“Satire,” as British-Indian author Salman Rushdie states, “has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny.” In journalism, satire is utilized for humorous, antagonistic criticism in all aspects of society. That being said, how forceful can one be in retaliating against such controversial opinions before extreme actions are taken?
French satirical weekly magazine, Charlie Hebdo, has a long history of stirring up conflicts: especially religious, political and cultural ones. The magazine has often fallen under scrutiny by its critics and the public since its founding in 1970. Throughout its growth and development in journalism, Charlie Hebdo had several cases that resulted in social chaos and even fatal confrontations.
“Secular, atheist, far-left-wing and anti-racist” is how the magazine firmly defines itself. Its strongly held beliefs, however, have been the catalyst for a plethora of legal confrontations and social criticisms. Most notably, Charlie Hebdo’s illustrations criticizing the Islamic Prophet Muhammad have raised aggressive attention over the last nine years.
In France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, “the free communication of thoughts and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man.” With the Freedom of the Press law, enacted in 1881 in France, journalists are given limited freedom of speech in which public hatred, slander, and discrimination are prohibited. Although legally acceptable, Charlie Hebdo’s religious satire has sparked social outrage. On January 7th of this year, the climactic point of tension broke as two disguised gunmen raided the offices of the publication in Paris and murdered employees, guards and police – killing a total of 12 people.
This attack on the “freedom of speech” has created a ripple effect of concern and sympathy from Paris to San Diego. Although our legal rights vary from country to country, we can all agree on one statement: freedom of speech is not free.
As high schoolers in the United States living under similar, but a less liberal, “freedom of the press” rationale than in France, it is a privilege to express opinions with the support of a just system of legal protection. Anti-hate speech laws play a significant role in journalism as they restrict and prevent intentional abuses, such as slander and discrimination, in newspapers and other public writings. However, many people tend to confuse satire for crossing the line between harmful criticism and constructive criticism.
Satire, as used by Charlie Hebdo, is the use of humor to expose a folly. The publication’s cartoon illustrations shed light on issues commonly held within high values by several religious and cultural subjects, using satire. Charlie Hebdo’s religious controversy most recently originated specifically from their disputed caricature of the prophet Muhammad saying “100 lashes if you do not die of laughter.” The artist’s intent was not to disrespect the religious values of Muslims, but rather highlighted a controversially harsh aspect of the belief. Ironically, while the cartoon did not instill any physical harm nor physical threats, it was met with the same deadly actions that it criticised.
We can agree to disagree when others contradict our beliefs, but what we cannot do is illogically retaliate through the vengefully immoral nature of violence.
In the aftermath of conflict, came unity. All over the world, vigils paid reverence for the lives lost at the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Hundred of thousands of people around the world began a trend called “Je Suis Charlie” to mourn the lives lost, as well as establish the necessity of the freedom of speech in the modern age. With this granted freedom, future generations will continue what so many strived to keep alive.