The Risk of Being Charlie

Tonight, while perusing Barnes and Noble, I picked up a copy of the French, satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. It was the first time I had ever seen a physical copy of the publication.

January 7, 2015 was a sad day for journalism.

Two terrorists opened fire at Charlie Hebdo.

Twelve lives were taken.

The magazine published cartoons of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, and for that they were killed. They took a risk.

Pressing letters on a keyboard is a risk journalist’s take. Scratching pencil on a sheet of paper is a risk journalist’s take. Hitting publish is a risk journalist’s take.

On the first day of spring semester, a professor of mine distributed this article from The Onion. (It is worth your time to read the entire article, but here is a sample.)

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It poetically said what most journalists were thinking on that day in January. We don’t know what will happen after the point of publication. And that is scary.

We expect angry letters and phone calls. We prepare for backlash on social media and harsh comments under online articles. We know people will find some work offensive.

We do not expect to be killed, but we know now that it is possible.

Pew Research Center conducted a public poll after the Charlie Hebdo attack. Sixty percent of Americans said publishing the cartoon was okay. They said that while the cartoon was offensive, it should be tolerated under free speech.

Tolerated; because when is it ever acceptable to kill a person? Maybe because they offended you by ridiculing something you find sacred. Maybe it’s just because they parked their car in the wrong spot.

Seven percent of Americans said that the magazine should not have published the cartoon because they should have expected violence, threats or anger. They believe the media should censor content so they do not offend anyone, you know, just in case they decide to commit a horrendous crime.

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To say the attack was sickening is an understatement. Charlie Hebdo, and all media, should have the option to publish anything they believe is acceptable without the threat of murder or violence.

The thought of self-censorship out of fear is one that should not be tolerated, but is a very real possibility.

I did not buy that copy of Charlie Hebdo tonight, but I wish that I had. It showed the cartoon Mohammad holding a sign reading “Je suis Charlie,” I am Charlie; the online campaign that began after the attack. Above the drawing, in French, it said, “Tout est pardonné.”


All is forgiven.


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