Words: Madhu Lal
On January 7th, a french satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, was attacked by two masked gun men. The men killed a total of 12 people after holding the building hostage for hours. A cartoon publish by Charlie Hebdo, depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad is said to have prompted the attack. The two attackers, identified as jihadists, forced themselves into the offices and opened fire. Parallel to the hostage situation in the Charlie Hebdo offices, two attackers took a kosher market hostage in Paris and demanded the gunmen in the Charlie Hebdo building be released unharmed. Both hostage situations ended in police raids which killed the attackers at both sites.
By the end of the Charlie Hebdo attack 12 were dead including 8 journalists, 2 police officers, a visitor and a caretaker. Four hostages died during the kosher market attack, not including the two gunmen. The event created an uproar, not only in Paris, but internationally. An estimated 1.2 million to 1.6 million people marched in Paris, some holding up pens to honor the journalists who were killed. It was said that this demonstration was the biggest in the history of France.
During and after the attacks in Paris, a hashtag started to be embraced, “Je suis Charlie”, which translates to my name is Charlie. People all over the world chanted, tweeted and shared the slogan in order to show their support, and mourn the loss of those who passed as a result of the attacks. Many journalists saw the slogan as a message which conveys the idea that, regardless of threats of violence, journalists and non-journalists alike refuse to have their freedom of speech taken away. The magazine embraced both meanings behind “Je suis Charlie” and published a print issue the next day. The issue depicted the prophet Muhammad holding a sign saying “I am Charlie” written in French. The actions that this media company took after the tragic event served as a clear example of the strong beliefs of freedom of expression and a reminder that writers everywhere will not be silenced by threats.
Many people support and back the meaning behind “je suis charlie”, however, a new hashtag, “#nojesuischarlie”, my name is not Charlie, started to surface. The argument behind the new tag was that, despite having the freedom of expression, writers and journalists alike must keep in mind others opinions and viewpoints regarding a topic. Some believe that Charlie Hebdo disregarded the feelings and opinions of others and blatantly provoked and insulted the religion of Islam. Miranda Mason, Editor-in-chief of The Wingspan said, “When looking at issues that they [Charlie Hebdo] have published, you can see how most of them are racist and offensive. I support freedom of speech and the attack was terrible, but in reality the magazine was offensive and attacked the Islamic religion.”
Many news corporation’s support the movement of “no je suis charlie” saying that the attacks were a direct result of the company’s insulting and offensive publications regarding the prophet Muhammad.
Journalists and writers of all ages, experiences, and qualifications have been especially affected by this event. Maryam Elhabashy, Feature editor of The Wingspan says, “As a writer, hearing about this attack was shocking. However, I feel that they [Charlie Hebdo] were provoking and insulting the Islamic religion. This event has personally helped solidify my belief that when writing you need to remember other peoples perspective on a topic.”
The event has sent shockwaves across the globe and has reminded many of the importance of freedom and speech and also has challenged the idea of what it means to have this freedom.