Charlie Hebdo: Je suis offensive?

By Anthony Maddaleni

I am assuming, at one time, the thought of a group of men with Kalashnikovs storming into a Paris office building and subsequently murdering an entire editorial staff seemed like a paranoid belief. After all, what type of people would have the training and perverse motivation to do such a thing? Wars, from my rather limited understanding, are fought between opposing armies.

However, the attack on Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French magazine, proved this once far-fetched belief is firmly grounded in reality. The magazine, which has a long and controversial history of mocking politicians and major religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, was attacked for publishing a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed. The French-born Islamic terrorists, who are now thought to have trained and become radicalized in Yemen, carried out this assault in retaliation for this aforementioned picture’s publication.

Far from paralyzing the French nation, millions took to the street in a show of strength and solidarity rarely seen in our modern world. The pencil has quickly become a widely recognized symbol of this attack; conveying the notion that violence can ultimately do nothing to stem the free exchange of ideas that is vital to maintain a healthy democratic society.

However, there is some controversy surrounding around the cover of Charlie Hebdo’s next issue, which featured yet another caricature of Mohammed. Some believe this has exacerbated tensions in France and within the Muslim community as a whole. Although I understand this viewpoint, this issue, to me, is one of freedom of speech. Charlie Hebdo is a magazine that has mercilessly mocked and derided every major religion, and this includes Islam.

Each and every religion should be open to both questioning and criticism. This attack, at its very core, sought to stifle and constrain one’s inherent right to freedom of speech. I applaud Charlie Hebdo for its decision to refuse to capitulate to the demands of those that follow radical Islam. Satire is vital to any democracy. It is a tool to keep our elected leaders honest and it also allows individuals to mock the very institutions (organized religion, politics etc.) that seem to govern our everyday lives.

Furthermore, this is a notion I am quite passionate about; free speech encompasses all ideas and philosophies, even those in which you or I may fervently disagree with. It is understandable why some followers of Islam may find the depiction of Mohammed offensive. By the same token, it is also understandable why those that follow Catholicism may find the magazine’s views on the Pope offensive as well. However, free speech does not merely protect those views that are agreeable or empathetic in some way.

A true litmus test for any democracy is how a society treats those whose views are almost universally reviled. To draw a parallel within American society, take the Westboro Baptist Church or the Ku Klux Klan, for example. I, along with many other sane Americans, find their views to be utterly reprehensible. However, do my sensibilities provide justification for stifling their freedom of speech? No, it absolutely does not. We would not be a free and democratic society if individuals were prohibited from expressing their views, no matter how backwards or outlandish they may be.
So, if you find Charlie Hebdo’s magazine cover offensive, I have a simple solution to this problem: do not buy the magazine. Do not view the cover. Express your dissatisfaction to your friends or loved ones. But please, realize that your views, however valid they may seem to be, are not a sufficient justification for preventing the magazine from being published.

That is exactly what groups like ISIS and AQAP want. They want the West to become rattled by this. I say, let’s embrace the notion of a truly free society, and that will give these groups something to be afraid of. For in the end, violence can ultimately do nothing to prevent our views from being expressed. Bullets cannot kill an ideal. The notions of equality and free expression did not die in that Paris office building. Quite the contrary, they were reborn in the hearts and minds of each and every person who marched in Paris a few weeks ago. I suppose the old cliché is true: the pen is certainly mightier than the sword.

Anthony Maddaleni is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at [email protected]