Shortly after we said goodbye to 2014, a year that already saw 61 journalists killed on the job, another assault against “freedom of expression” occurred in Paris, by, yet again, extremist radical Muslims.
Last Wednesday, three masked gunmen stormed the offices of French satirical magazine, “Charlie Hebdo,” and took with them the lives of ten journalists and two police officers. What was the gripe of these aggressors that carried out one of the worst terror attacks on French soil? Political cartoons.
Sure, the cartoons are pretty vulgar and offensive. What spurred the violent attacks were specifically lewd depictions of the Muslim prophet Mohammed, like one where the holy leader is saying, “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing.”
But we believe that in the spirit of journalism and comedy that, no topic should be off limits to be investigated, or poked fun at. Freedom of expression, is exactly what French President Francois Hollande described it as: “the spirit of the republic.” Perhaps the cartoonists should have been more a bit more culturally sensitive, however, they’re not obligated to. Part of a journalist’s job is to expose the absurdities of the human condition, and people shouldn’t have to die because organized religion is the perfect fodder for that.
And Charlie Hebdo slammed all religions, not just Islam. Another offensive caricature depicted Pope Benedict holding a condom over his head in a manner similar to the administering of the holy Eucharist. However, you seldom see angry Christians retaliating by opening fire and killing innocents. Outrage over offensive and religiously intolerant jokes should take the form of protests, petitions or Facebook posts, not the barrell of a Kalashnikov rifle.
However, in the wake of these attacks it’s incredibly important that we don’t demonize all Muslims. Westerners are quick to label Islam as a violent and extremist religion, when the majority of terrorist attacks are committed in the name of Allah. However it’s immature to generalize a complex religion of over 1.6 billion, diverse and peaceful worshippers. Political forces here at home are going to be relying on these deadly stereotypes to possibly generate support for future wars. Countless muslims around the world condemned the Paris attacks, saying that the (now dead) terrorists tarnished the image of Mohammed in a worse way than the cartoonists ever could.
Respect the diverse faiths of the world. But also respect a person’s right to say, draw or write whatever they want. And never, should a grievance be resolved by murder.
Let’s make sure that our solidarity with the French journalists and our rage over their deaths is focused on ending discrimination and intolerance for everyone, regardless of whether or not you subscribe to their beliefs.