12 Dead: Freedom of Speech, Expression under assault from Islamic terrorists in Paris

Charlie Hebdo cartoon

Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical publication based in Paris, was firebombed in 2011. Six days later, they published the above cartoon. The caption reads “Love: Stronger than hate.” Earlier today, at least two gunmen opened fire on the publication’s office, killing at least 12 and wounding 11 others.

It’s difficult to understand this fact: The freedom of speech and expression we enjoy as Americans is not understood anywhere else in the world. Even among Western nations, there are numerous laws that curtail all manners of speech and expression.

In some nations, there is a “right to be forgotten,” which means the government can force online entities to delete unflattering information about you at your request, even if you were at one time a public figure. Wikipedia actually has a pretty substantial rundown on the various restrictions globally.

It’s important to understand this when framing the most recent terrorist attack on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, an irreverent and sometimes offensive weekly satirical publication. The office was firebombed in 2011 when it published an unflattering cartoon of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed.

Was the cartoon offensive to Muslims? Sure. Was the subsequent attack warranted? Absolutely not.

And now this — today’s attack on the publication that left at least 12 dead and 11 injured. Among the dead are four of the publication’s founding cartoonists, an economist, and two police officers. And though the facts of the attack are still being assembled, it appears to have been executed by radical Islamic terrorists.

There is plenty of coverage in American media, French media, and throughout the Western world. And now it seems that Russian troll accounts on Twitter have praised the attacks.

France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population, and has for decades squelched public displays of religion.

These attacks should serve as a warning to Americans — that the freedoms we hold dear are not understood in other cultures the way we understand them. We must aggressively defend freedom of speech and expression within our own borders — even speech and expression that we find personally abhorrent.

One of the cartoonists who was murdered, Stéphane Charbonnier, said in a 2012 interview that he was “not afraid of retaliation. I have no kids, no wife, no car, no mortgage. It may come off as a bit arrogant but I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees.”

Many of us take these bedrock freedoms for granted, and we may never have to make the choice Charbonnier ultimately made. But we should be ever mindful of the threats to these freedoms — from government, from individuals, and from radical elements within our society.

I am reminded of another Frenchman, Voltaire, who said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend — to the death — your right to say it.” Are we prepared to defend these freedoms?

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