by Bryan Jackler
Last week, a tragic event of terror took place in Paris, leaving over twenty dead and numerous more injured.
On Jan. 7, two French-born brothers affiliated with al-Qaeda broke into the headquarters of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in retaliation for cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad, sparking a three-day long period of fear in France, according to cnn.com.
The brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, killed a security officer and then forced an employee to turn over her ID badge, giving them access to the building, according to thedailybeast.com. Once inside, the Kouachis calmly executed specific members of the magazine’s staff who they believed to be responsible for the cartoons. During their escape, the brothers stopped to execute a Parisian police officer on the sidewalk, making him the twelfth person killed in their attack. That night, national emergency was declared in France and a manhunt was enacted.
On Jan. 9, the Kouachis were located in a printing company in the town of Dammartin, where they took one man hostage. When police surrounded the building, the brothers rushed out with guns drawn, and were killed in the ensuing firefight.
In a parallel act of terror, an unidentified group of men dressed in all black and bulletproof vests killed a police officer in the suburb of Montrouge on Jan. 8, according to theguardian.com. The next day, while the manhunt for the Kouachis continued, one of the men responsible for the officer’s death, Amedy Coulibaly, entered a kosher supermarket and took 19 people hostage. Coulibaly was a member of ISIS and an acquaintance of the Kouachis, and his attack was intended to draw attention away from the brothers. Minutes after the Kouachis were killed, police stormed the supermarket, killing Coulibaly but they did not arrive in time to save four of the hostages.
Support for those wounded and the families of the dead has reached across the world, as massive demonstrations were held in cities including New York, London and Istanbul, according to cnn.com. The slogan “Je suis Charlie,” French for “I am Charlie,” has become the motto of the movement, displaying worldwide support for the security of free speech.
Tensions had been rising for years over the nature of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, according to ibtimes.com. Since 2006, there have been three different lawsuits brought against the magazine over caricatures, one of which showed the Prophet Muhammad smoking marijuana while pathetically attempting to predict the future. In 2011, the magazine’s headquarters was hit by a petrol bomb after publishing a special edition issue dedicated to the Arab Spring. A year later, France closed its embassies in over 20 countries due to fear of terror attacks. After hearing this, the magazine’s then-editor Stephane Charbonnier said that his staff was, “not really fueling the fire,” but rather using its right to freedom of speech to “comment on the news in a satirical way.”
While the act of terror was horrible and unwarranted, the issue is much more convoluted than it seems. Even though disrespecting the Prophet Muhammad merits a severe punishment in the Muslim faith, that does not necessarily apply to non-followers and by no means justifies the deaths of the victims. Current relations among sects in France are poor, especially after the banning of Islamic headwear and face coverings, which is a violation of freedom of religion and of expression. Though acts of terrorism should never be supported, journalists must think about the implications of what they publish.
However, the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo, released after the attack, makes the matter even murkier. The edition was named “The Survivor’s Issue.” and the Prophet Muhammad graces the cover once again, pictured holding a “Je suis Charlie” sign, according to thedailybeast.com. The magazine attempted to show that despite the terrorists’ attempt to get the paper to change its ways, it will not back down from their satirical nature. While their cause was noble, the magazine handled itself poorly. Trying to be light-hearted, the issue was filled with cartoons and articles mocking the terrorists, the murdered writers and even those who filled the streets to support the paper in what was supposed to be a time of grieving. While addressing topics with a satirical attitude is ingrained in the magazine’s DNA, they needed to take a step back in this instance. Charlie Hebdo’s response to one of the worst terrorist attacks in French history was immature, causing one to think twice before holding up a sign declaring “Je suis Charlie,” however noble the cause may be.
Ultimately, this terrible event of terror could be the catalyst of social reform that France direly needs. Plagued by unemployment, discrimination against immigrants and religious divisions, France has been challenged by social and economic troubles in recent times. Hopefully, the French government and their citizens can use this tragedy to identify the multiple racial and religious issues in their society, and begin to work on uniting their nation.