The morning of the 7th January 2015 witnessed a terrorist attack on the satirical French magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’. Twelve people died and eleven more were injured by the Islamic extremist brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi. The magazine itself is considered to be extremely controversial, publishing anti-religious and left wing articles mocking Catholicism, Islam, Israel as well as world news. The Charlie Hebdo shootings does not represent the only attack on the magazine, as in 2011 (after the magazine published a particularly controversial issue featuring an offensive cartoon of Mohammed) the office was firebombed. However, unlike the 2011 attack, this was the first to leave anyone dead or injured.
However, it is what became of the shootings that made the attack a global issue and to be now considered an attack on ‘free speech’. According to CNN, at least 3.7 million people, including an array of world leaders, marched in Paris - the largest gathering in French history. A duo that attended the rally were the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Many within the march carried signs to display forms of both discontent and pride. Some carried the phrase ‘Je Suis Charlie’, which rose to fame after the shootings as a means of honouring the journalists who were killed. Muslims in France (who make up 7% of the French population) held up signs with the words ‘We Are All Muslims’. There were also signs reading ‘We Are All Cops’, to honour the police officers and guards who had lost their lives in the week’s events. However, there were also signs stating that ‘We Are All French’ being held up within the march with pride.
The responses to ‘Je Suis Charlie’ have been varied. One Muslim man within the march is quoted saying: “Our religion is the religion of love. ... Our religion loves Jews ... loves Christians. We are not terrorists”. America has chosen to stand by France in the wake of these attacks. President Obama has reportedly vowed to stand united with France, stating: ‘We go forward together knowing that terror is no match for the freedom and ideals we stand for -- ideals that light the world. Vive la France.’ However, his non-attendance in the Paris march has proved controversial. On the other hand, Pope Francis is reported to have defended free expression up to a point, but his opinion stood with one of his main statements: ‘You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others. There is a limit’.
On the 9th January, Cherif and Said Kouachi were killed after a violent standoff. However, the attack has made many feel very vulnerable and has made many realize that the threat of terrorist attack is at its highest point for many years. Is there a point where freedom of speech becomes morally wrong?