THE SANTA CLARA
January 15, 2015
A naked and repugnant caricature of the Prophet Muhamamad. A bullet ridden Qur’an.
A brave voice in a vast sea of cowardice calling for equality? Or a media outlet padding its wallets with harsh Islamophobia and blatant racism?
Often used as a tool to invoke social change through the use of jest and ridicule, satire in its purest form both challenges its audience and initiates discourse for the better. In plastering their works with grossly offensive images of the Prophet Muhammad, an act explicitly prohibited in the Hadith, or supplemental teachings of Islam, the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo crosses the line. By being rude and crude, the staff offends more frequently than it inspires social change in the country with the most Muslims in the Western world.
The need for fair and honest discourse about Islam has been growing in France, as the European Court of Human Rights recently upheld France’s ban on Muslim full-face veils in a controversial decision that some feel violates freedom of religion. As a result, Charlie Hebdo further antagonized an entire culture through distasteful hate speech.
Despite being anything but appropriate, the staff at Charlie Hebdo arguably acted within their rights of free speech and expression. Such a notion was upheld in 2007 when a Paris court dismissed a suit against the the staff of the paper for publishing insensitive images of the Prophet Muhammad.
Charlie Hebdo is far from the only organization that expresses itself in an offensive manner. And while its publications may be less than appropriate, their worth in a society that sorely needs to approach such debate head-on cannot be overlooked.
The paper grabbed the attention of readers with an iron grip that would not be relinquished until just discussion was had. It may have been a bully, but that bully had honest and true intentions.
However, like yelling fire in a crowded theater or issuing “fighting words,” such hate speech should never be acceptable. To openly attack a culture deeply rooted in peace and hide behind the shield of free speech is not satire. It is racism.
Thus the question arises: In choosing to publish cartoons that are clearly offensive to large portions of society, is Charlie Hebdo acting within its rights as an agent for social change -— or abusing the system, while outraging millions?
By publishing such cartoons, Charlie Hebdo opened itself up to be the center of what should have been a profound and thought-out debate. Last week, however, unspeakable tragedy permanently altered the discourse.
The massacre of a dozen French journalists, cartoonists and police officers is as tragic as it is deplorable. No image drawn on paper, regardless of its message, warrants the senseless killing of mothers and fathers, husbands and wives or brothers and sisters.
One’s outrage over the image of the Holy Trinity partaking in a depraved threesome or the Prophet Muhammad being beheaded by a terror group can never be conveyed through violence.
The world should not be filled with four-year-olds striking their peers over unshared toys in the sandbox. A group of cowards begged to differ last week when they stormed into the office of a French paper last week and fought pens with guns.
While what that pen drew should not be celebrated, encouraged or reproduced, its ink should have been erased in the court of mature and fair public discourse, not by the blood of cartoonists.
The victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks will forever hold a place in our hearts and prayers. Their work may have been an abuse of free speech and expression, or a brave and needed voice in a broken society, but their claim unquestionably deserved consideration. Whether or not they were martyrs for free speech, the staff of Charlie Hebdo fell victim to pathetic and dishonorable terrorists.
The lives of Stephane Charbonnier, Jean Cabut, Georges Wolinski, Bernard Verlhac, Philippe Honore, Bernard Maris, Elsa Cayat, Mustapha Ourrad, Michel Renaud, Frederic Boisseau, and officers Ahmed Merabet and Franck Brinsolaro ended tragically and far too soon.
Thomas Curran-Levett is a junior political science major and the editor of the Opinion section.