No freedom for you

Megan R.

Senior Editor

On January 7th, 2015, the world stood still as a group of gunmen shot and killed 12 people in the Charlie Hebdo building in Paris.  A satirical magazine stationed in Paris, Charlie Hebdo is infamous for their mockery of Islamic culture. After publishing a more-vulgar-than-usual edition of the magazine, several radical Muslim terrorists attacked the building. Marches of solidarity and candlelight vigils were held all over the world in honor of the victims. Yet, within a week, Charlie Hebdo released another magazine portraying the prophet Mohammed. The cover read “Tout est pardonnes,” French for “All is forgiven.” This edition of the magazine sold out almost instantly. However, after the attacks, several companies, stores, and media groups were concerned about selling this magazine.

Each religion has its own dogma – a set of rules that define it and its members. For Muslims, one key aspect is the prophet Mohammed. Muslims are not supposed to look at any images or portrayals of the prophet. CNN stated that they would not be posting the most recent cover “because it is our policy not to show potentially offensive images of the prophet.” For several other companies, this was their reasoning for leaving Charlie Hebdo off of the shelves. For at least a week after the attack, Muslims could hardly leave their houses for fear that they might accidently glance across the street and see the prophet.

A recent study by PEW Research Center shows that most Americans support Charlie Hebdo’s publications. Sixty percent of those interviewed said it was okay for Charlie Hebdo to publish cartoons in which the prophet Mohammed is illustrated. However, 28% said that it was not. In the land of the free, it all comes down to the freedom of expression, but when does freedom of speech violate religion? Furthermore, do those rights even apply in France?

The rights of the press, and of individual expression, can be traced back to the French Revolution. Although narrow in the beginning, several amendments and acts have expanded the French freedom of expression. Now it is virtually equivalent to America’s freedom of speech and press. However, freedom of religion is nearly nonexistent in France. Originally one of the hubs for Catholicism, France is intolerant of protestant Christians and Muslims alike. Although 83% Catholic, France maintains a secular code of law.  France has openly banned wearing full face veils and looks down upon head scarves of any kind. The consequence for wearing a niqab (full face veil) in public is a 100 euro fine. This ban was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights, saying it “was not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing in question but solely on the fact that it concealed the face.” However, coverings like motorbike helmets are exempted.

Based on these rights, or lack thereof, the French press can publish anything it wants regardless of whom it might offend, something an American magazine would never get away with. Although American media takes great liberty in their publications, they are aware that each publication has its consequences.

This begs the question, if something is legal, does that mean it is justified? The world’s population has taken the liberty of interpreting this event personally. Some believe that the freedom of speech protects against consequence; others disagree. Certainly the terrorists are not justified in their actions, as murder is never justified, but, at the same time, Charlie Hebdo openly, and repeatedly, attacks the entire Muslim religion.

The controversial and usually crude magazine covers began insulting Muslims in the early 2000s. In 2011, after at least three extremely offensive Islamic covers, Charlie Hebdo was bombed. The following issue of the magazine was even more belligerent than the last. Not surprisingly, Charlie Hebdo also released a cover supporting the French banning of face veils in 2010. This cover, rather than depicting the prophet, degraded an Islamic woman- a sacred part of Islam.

In America, there are several laws that prohibit slander and offensive publications. America maintains freedom of press, but the media industry is still expected to accept the consequences of their publications. Why is Charlie Hebdo not? Can freedom truly exist if it only applies to some, not all, citizens?



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