Je ne suis pas Charlie

Defending free speech doesn’t mean republishing offensive images

When I heard about the attacks in Paris last week, I was shocked and horrified. I sunk into my seat in grief as a CBC news reporter explained that 10 journalists from Charlie Hebdo and two police officers had been murdered. This couldn’t be real. Being an aspiring writer and a former French-immersion student who had just visited France, everything really hit me right at home.

But I disagree with the notion that we should all be Charlie. I reject Ethan Cabel’s recent statement—in his Jan. 14 Manitoban article, “Time to stand up to radical Islamism”—that all people, Muslim and non-Muslim, need to stand in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. Let me tell you why.

Charlie Hebdo is not a synonym for free speech. It is a satirical magazine that pushes the boundaries of free speech, taunting numerous political parties, social groups, and religions in the process.

Regardless of the content published, the attacks in Paris were of course unwarranted and tragic. Acts of intimidation and violence should be condemned, especially when they are attacking the liberties of open societies. Thus, it is important to stand for the principle of free speech.

But, those same societies should practise free speech with some sense of decency, intelligence, and respect. Consistently attacking an entire religion just because you can should not acceptable.
Cabel wrote, “Charlie Hebdo continued to publish cartoons and commentary meant to give Parisians a chuckle at the expense of the powerful and the brutish even while its editor was on an al-Qaeda hit list.”

It’s quite easy to forget that the chuckles of these Parisians were not only at the expense of the “powerful and the brutish,” but of the millions of peaceful Muslims in France and around the world. When Charlie Hebdo chooses to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, they are violating Muslim law that forbids such images.

Muslims have long been a part of France; their presence there goes back to the eighth century. But, with legislation banning hijabs from France’s public school system and the introduction of a 2010 law prohibiting the burqa in public, Islamophobic ideas easily run rampant. Muslims are left feeling as though they are not wanted in French society. So naturally, when a magazine like Charlie Hebdo chooses to overtly mock them, it is not taken well.

Since the attacks, numerous news outlets have refused to publish these images. While Cabel believes this to be a cowardly act, I believe there is a certain validity to it that has nothing to do with being afraid of a violent retaliation. Choosing to not partake in the public mockery of Islam isn’t “letting the terrorists win.” Radical Islamism is extremely different from Islam, something these cartoons don’t always differentiate.

Should we offend terrorists? Yes. Absolutely. Journalists should be free to fight them in the only way they know how. However, including another religion in your offence strategy shouldn’t be part of the attack. There has to be another way.

If anyone, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, is hesitant to stand in alliance with Charlie Hebdo, their reasons should be understood. This isn’t about the fear of terrorist retaliation.

I am an advocate of free speech. But if being an advocate for free speech requires me to automatically ally myself with a magazine whose cartoons further perpetuate discrimination against a religion, then I don’t want anything to do with it.