Charlie Hebdo - A Unique Perspective

by GEM Magazine / Jun 26, 2015 / Comments

On January 7th 2015, three Muslim terrorists armed with assault weapons killed almost the entire editorial staff of the Hebdo Charlie, a satirical magazine published in Paris. The fledgling weekly publication features cartoons, reports and jokes. It’s main topics are religion, politics and culture.

The magazine has been targeted by terrorists on two occasions, the first being in 2011. Both attacks are presumed to be the result of a number of controversial cartoons they published, in which they portrayed the prophet Mohamed in a highly provocative manner.

The publishers of the Hebdo Charlie are being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it, under no circumstances would they be allowed to publish their newspaper here in Canada. It would, rightfully in my opinion, be classified squarely as “hate speech”.

The worldwide reaction revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of muslims in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend minorities in their own country.

What the Hebdo Charlie published, was not illegal, but it does ignite a culture of disrespect in a country that is already crippled in racism - a racism that we as Canadian's haven’t seen in generations.

Is this a teachable moment?

Both murky and grey, free speech enables an abundance of points of view and truths, a virtual smorgasbord of thoughts, ideas, opinions, faiths, politics and emotions.

The bad thing about free speech is that, depending on who's doling it out, it's not necessarily tasteful, appropriate or respectful. Without being framed within a context of respect, it can inflame sentiments, fuelling emotions which can cause explosive actions. Just because we have the right to say something, does it mean it should be said? Is the provocation worth the potential damage and what is the objective?

The Darwin Award fully applies here:

Whether we share their views or not, Muslims worldwide have been crystal clear. They take blasphemy very seriously, as they do the prophet and the Quran. If you want to really offend a Muslim, ridicule his prophet or his holy book. When the Hebdo Charlie published their caricatures of the prophet and deliberately ridiculed him, they knew what they were doing; they were deeply offending 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. 

In Islam, blasphemy is a crime punishable by death. Well, it turns out that of the 1.6 billion Muslims, three of them decided to take justice into their own hands and kill the very deliberately blaspheming Frenchmen.

You don't have to be Muslim or to approve of the death penalty for blasphemy to realize that this was predictable and has nothing to do with religion. Offend any group as large as 1.6 billion and sooner or later you will find a few willing to use violence to make you pay for it. This is statistically inevitable.

Before the massacre the publication had always been viewed as “bete et mechant” or stupid and mean and it’s sales rarely exceeded 30,000 copies.

As a result of the massacre;
- 3.7 million people took to the streets to pay homage to the victims and defend the freedom of expression. 1.5 million people in paris alone.
- Thousands of media outlets worldwide republished it’s offensive cartoons - further adding to the fire.
- #Jesuischarlie and #Iamcharlie became the most popular news hashtags in twitter history.
- The French Culture Minister pledged 1 million euros of state money to help the publication.
- Google promised to give 250,000 euros.
- The British daily newspaper; The Guardian donated 125,000 euros.
- The French press association opened a bank account which attracted donations from the public.
- The subsequent issue went on to sell 5 million copies in 18 languages around the world.

Ironically, while the French were in the streets expressing their solidarity to the Hebdo Charlie by rallying for free speech and liberties, the french government announced increased surveillance and privacy infringements as a result of the recent attacks. Including the right to block internet websites. A practice usually reserved for countries such as China and North Korea.

In a time where extremism is peaking from all sides, do we really mean to encourage such negativity and provocation?

I mourn the death of the twelve people who were killed on January 7th and I am devastated by the brutality of their murderers. But I can’t help to wonder if their creativity and tenacity couldn’t be put to better use.

I support the freedom of expression with vehemence.

But I am not Charlie. And I hope I never will be.

By Michael Chenier

Michael has had a diverse career over the past 20 years. From promotions and advertising to web development and magazine publishing, he is currently the owner of Arore Communications and Victoria and Vancouver Lifestyles Magazines.


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