Though the controversy has yet to finish, a few weeks separation from most of the incidents gives us an opportunity of retrospect regarding Charlie Hebdo’s controversial caricatures, and the events that followed. Looking back on the situation has given me a broader perspective on the matter, but my deeper understanding stays the same: I cannot, and will not endorse or agree with the magazine’s point of view. Charlie Hebdo is a magazine that pushes the limits of the concept of freedom of speech; to be fair, they acknowledge that in every right. Their slogan, “journal irresponsable,” which is exactly what it sounds like, demonstrates their goals very simply. Their job, as caricature artists, is to cause controversy. They have done that very well. But at a certain point, they broke the limits.
France has never been particularly tolerant of the Muslim people. They have laws that indicate women must remove headscarves in places they need to be identified, such as airports, and refuse to these women be identified in a separate area by a woman, as many other countries do. This violates a basic law of Islam, which states that the beauty of a woman should be seen only by her brother, father or husband. It has been reported that many women and girls have been denied work and education because of traditional wear, and Muslim men face constant discrimination because of beards associated with Islam, as well as their turbans. Because of this background, it is no surprise that one of the main victims of this French journal is the religion of Islam.
Charlie Hebdo has published numerous cartoons, including on the cover of their weekly issues, which show the prophet Mohammed in different, often pejorative situations, as you can see below.
“100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter,” a commentary on methods of punishment used by Islamist extremists.
“Murder in Egypt,” “The Coran is shit,” “It doesn’t stop bullets”
“Charlie Hebdo must be censored” mocks the way different religions have reacted to the journal.
“Love is stronger than hate.” This came following the first attack on Charlie Hebdo’s office in 2011.
“All is pardoned,” “I am Charlie,” this was published soon after the recent attack.
All these cartoons feature exaggeration and generalization in their own right, and that is to be expected. The thing that crosses the line is the portrayal of Mohammed, which shows his face. Though this may not seem like a big deal, Islam does not allow the face of their prophet to be reproduced in any sort, and is considered blasphemy.
This is where the French government started doing things wrong. Rather than condemning Charlie Hebdo for their lack of respect, they chose to protect the journal’s office. I do not pardon the attacks, but what I believe is terrible is that the extremists believed they needed to do this. In preparing for a potential attack with the police force, rather than respect, the French government did nothing but boost the Islamophobia that is already so prominent in their country, and in the entire western world. In other words, if they had punished the publishers of Charlie Hebdo, the attack never would have happened, and the attack just gives the French people further reason to hate.
What’s becoming truly horrendous, is that the entire Muslim religion is being blamed for terrorism, and this attack just put innocent Muslims in further danger. After the attack, Rupert Murdoch, a board member of News Corp, tweeted, “Maybe most Moslems are peaceful, but until they recognise and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” What Murdoch, and so many others fail to see, is that the Islamic terrorists are not Muslims. Someone who actually followed the religion wouldn’t do that. They just disguise hate with the name of god, and that of Islam. It is only once we separate the religion from terrorism that we can truly be able to understand, and begin to counter the extremists. Sending soldiers to the Middle East and bombing innocent people does nothing to the terrorists. They don’t care about the innocent. But to end terrorism is not just to root out bad people, but also prevent them from existing in the future. Western powerhouses need to work with countries that are infused with terrorism, not create enemies of them.
The bottom line is that no one is in the right. At least not yet. Je ne suis pas Charlie because I respect all the innocent people who are suffering because of their actions. But at this point, I can’t agree with anyone else. Freedom of speech is a right. It’s essential to democracy, and to the very website I’m writing this on, but we need to know and understand its limits. Charlie Hebdo can be irresponsible, but it needs to have respect. If you poke fun at someone, and they can’t laugh at it, you don’t keep going. Most of us learned that in elementary school.