You probably would not like Charlie. Most people in America would think him crude and insensitive. They would brand him a racist and bigot. They would likely call for a boycott of him. Now, while they know him not, they come to his defense.
Few people really know the French satiric publication known as Charlie Hebdo. Prior to the attack on an editorial staff meeting that left a dozen dead, few outside of France knew of the weekly. They may have heard about it in the news due to threats against the paper, but in truth, the paper was not widely read. The circulation was reported to be about 60,000, some claim only 30,000. With the world-wide publicity following the terrorist attack, the demand for the paper skyrocketed by people who did not know it. The paper’s run has been translated into 16 languages and increased to seven million copies according to Yahoo News. That is astounding for a paper that regularly pokes fun at one of the world’s great religions and it leader, the prophet Mohammad.
The ironic twist to the story is instead of shutting down the publication that insults Muslims, approximately 1.6 billion people on earth, it has popularized the paper and dramatically increased its circulation. While the increase will certainly die down, the furor will not. The debate over the content will continue and perhaps increase. In fact, today France 24 reports, “Almost half of those in France believe cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed – like those printed by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo – should not be published.” Charlie is not so likeable when you get to know him.
As the so-called defenders of free speech, from nations where journalists are jailed, gathered in Paris for a photo-op, Muslims around the world must have been wondering why it is OK to insult their religion so openly, while talk against other religions would not be tolerated in those same countries. It is a double standard of perplexing proportion.
If a small publication in America put Jesus on its cover in ways that mocked Him and the Christian Churches of the world, there would be a major political and social media firestorm. People would be protesting outside the publication. Calls for a boycott would be loud and long. Leaders would be on all the talk shows demanding such a publication be forced out of business. That is what we think of such “free Speech.” It is not OK to mock our God, our prophets and our saints, but some think it is OK to mock other religions. The type of lewd and disrespectful drawings Charlie Hebdo is known for would never be tolerated here.
The 80-year-old co-founder of Charlie Hebdo, Henri Roussel, thinks the editor of the publication, killed in the terrorist attack, went too far in his insults of Muslims. “What made him feel the need to drag the team into overdoing it?” Roussel asked (in French) in a letter he wrote and published in the French magazine, Nouvel Obs. He called the now deceased editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, brilliant, but stubborn. Speaking of the risks taken by the paper, Roussel states, “For years, decades even, it was a provocation, and then one day the provocation turns against us.”
Following the show of support by people worldwide who had no idea of the lewd and provocative drawings published in recent years, counter demonstrations erupted in Muslim nations across the globe. Many have been killed and churches burned in response. Certainly, we are right to condemn the violence, no matter what the provocation, but we must ask ourselves an important question. How would we react to anything we would take to be insulting to our church, our prophets and our god? Moreover, how do you think the extreme Christian right would react?
While we value freedom of speech, we must also recognize that such provocations will over time bring a response. One would hope that the response would also be by cartoon or editorial, but how often can you attack what others hold dear? When should sensitivity and political correctness take hold? When should good judgment and common sense tell you that you have crossed the line from freedom of speech, to racism and bigotry?
Another tragic irony to the story of Charlie Hebdo is the murder of police officer Ahmed Merabet. He was on site at the publication when the terrorist attack took place. Ahmed was himself a Muslim and died trying to protect those who would regularly and provocatively insult his religion. He was assigned to protect freedom of speech in the 11th Arrondissement (district) of Paris. He tried to do just that. Many of us would defend the right of others to freely publish satire and cartoons, even if we do not agree with its content. In that regard we can adopt another phrase. It is not as popular as “Je suis Charlie,” but it stands for those who would die defending his freedom. Therefore, I am Ahmed.