The recent attack on the editorial staff of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, resulted in the death of around a dozen people. The innocent lives taken at the hands of the Al-Qaeda associated terrorists were ordinary workers who were simply sharing their opinions with the rest of France through newspaper publications. They had the full right to publish their opinions, just like any other person in a democratic country that practices the freedom of speech and press. In America, the First Amendment is an explicit statement of such rights. Much like an American citizen, a French citizen is entitled to voice their beliefs.
Yet, the tragedy of January 7, 2015 uncovered a startling truth: that people can indeed be victimized for their opinions – maybe not by their own government, but by outside forces such as terrorist organizations that view satire as a severe censure of their faith. That was exactly the case with the Charlie Hebdo attack. Known for its harsh mockery that sometimes crossed the line from aggressive to full blown, Charlie Hebdo was a bold newspaper that approached the topic of Islam in a rather negative way.
Of course, the underlying issue is whether Charlie Hebdo did go too far in its lampoon of Islam. Many American sources state that the newspaper had been unforgiving to the point where its contents appeared to be more like raciest commentary than anything else. In one particular publication, the cover page made the Islamic month of fasting, Ramadan, the center of its parody. Indeed, it could be argued that Charlie Hebdo was taking satire to an extreme level.
And even though it is wrong to veil xenophobic opinions with the label of free speech, it is much worse to target people for their beliefs. In any situation and place, an individual should be allowed to harbor their own feelings toward a subject. If you dislike a person, that’s fine. If you tell others that you dislike that person, that’s fine as well. It’s not like upon hearing your thoughts, everybody else will start hating that person, too. In general, when people share their beliefs, they do it for self-expression. They’re not necessarily looking to embed the same ideal in everybody’s mind; and even if they are, they know that such a feat is not exactly possible. Free speech only allows one to speak without constraint – it doesn’t mean that everybody will listen.
Given that, the fact that some Charlie Hebdo staff members were killed so brutally is saddening and disheartening. The “Je suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie,” campaign that has sprung up over France is a representation of such emotions. People don’t deserve to die for their opinions, and the Charlie Hebdo attack makes us realize that we should always fight for our inherent rights.