Freedom of Speech : Charlie Hebdo

How free is freedom of speech?

Moral Low Ground

On Wednesday, January 7, the world was shocked with the news of a terrorist attack in France at the magazine Charlie Hebdo building. After killing 12 people, including cartoonists, the editor, and police officers, the gunmen exited. According to NBC news, witnesses have stated hearing the attackers shout “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” and “God is Great”. The motive is assumed to be the satirical caricatures of Prophet Muhammad that Charlie Hebdo had published. Three years ago, similarly, Charlie Hebdo was firebombed for the same reason. Gravely affronted by the attack on freedom of speech, Paris is currently on guard and focused on finding these terrorists.

The recent event has sparked mass demonstrations throughout the world both in support and against Charlie Hebdo. The supporting protests in Europe are proclaiming the rights for freedom of expression, while the many Palestinians against it are exclaiming over the disrespect shown by the magazine in their offensive publications of the Prophet Mohammed.

Charlie Hebdo

Furthermore, after the attack, Charlie Hebdo had published another controversial “survivor” issue that further angered Muslims around the world. The largest one in Karachi, the demonstrations depicted the anger of Muslims and their desire for respect towards their beliefs. They are protesting against the magazine itself, and some are going as far as to boycott European imports altogether.

Not only Muslims, but other faiths have also expressed discontent with the magazine’s outspoken insults towards another religion, as they are notorious for a sharp tongue against other religious groups. Patriarch Kirill, the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church, although expressing clear opposition to terrorism, also voiced disdain for offending religions.

It is during times like these when freedom of speech is questioned and tested. Many from western backgrounds believe strongly in the individual rights of men, but is there a limit? Charlie Hebdo had rights to publish whatever they so desired under the idea of freedom of speech, but by doing so, offended many around the world, which thus led to retaliation and terrorism. According to Huffington Post, the Pope stated that insulting one’s religion can be compared to insulting one’s mother, which would cause hurt and defensive behavior.

A similar case of questioning freedom of rights could be seen in the Snyder vs. Phelps case against the Westboro Baptist church, where Phelps was sued for causing disruptions and insulting the Snyder family during the funeral of the Marine son, but was victorious as a result of freedom of speech.

Indeed, how far is too much? But, on the other hand, the attackers in this terrorist incident resorted to violence and murders, including those of innocent lives. There is no correct answer, but recent events with Charlie Hebdo incite curious reflection on freedom of speech.

– Sarah Chin (’16)

Header: The Telegraph

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