PARIS/CAMBRIDGE – After the horrendous events in Paris last week where a number of editors of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo were killed, and with them seven other victims, people are on the streets again. Marching. Protesting. Empathizing and sympathizing. But with who exactly? Is there a ‘relational message’ in “Je suis Charlie”?
The Charlie Hebdo shooting caused great disturbance all over the world. And rightfully so. “Je suis Charlie” became the rallying cry of those who support free speech and freedom of expression. However, is there a more relational perspective? Director of the Schuman Centre for European Studies Jeff Fountain asks in his latest blog, “where does one draw the line between freedom of expression and hate crimes? Does the kind of satire Charlie Hebdo known for, where nothing was sacred and cartoons of popes wearing condoms were typical fare, represent the values that build trust and solidarity? Why the one-sided affirmation by our political leaders for this selective freedom, without calling for respect and understanding?” He goes on to say that while free speech and satire has its place in our western society, we should ask ourselves whether Charlie Hebdo’s offensive style really is something with which we all want to indentify? He concludes, “Even the FIFA mafia preach respect on the football field. But of course that’s just a game. That’s not real life”. In other words: does ‘freedom’ mean there are no boundaries to what we can do or say? If not, what should the boundaries then be?
Charlie’s colleagues decided this week to have the Prophet Mohammed on the cover again. In the cartoon he is holding a ‘Je Suis Charlie’ sign under the headline “All Is Forgiven”. This choice and act will not bring an end to (acts of) violent extremism. However, the message that comes with it is one of extending forgiveness. Zineb El Rhazoui, a Charlie Hebdo columnist who was on holiday in Morocco when the attack happened, says “Charlie Hebdo’s team needs to forgive. We know that the struggle is not with people but with an ideology”.