Offensive Speech Like That At Charlie Hebdo Needs Protection Most Of All

WEST HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. – As the world reflects on the Charlie Hebdo massacre – now that three suspects are dead and another additional five innocents murdered – people will undoubtedly place part of the blame on the satirical newspaper for its provocative satire.
They’ll point out that Charlie Hebdo has received death threats for years and had even been firebombed back in 2011. They’ll argue that if the French journalists had changed the offensive content, they would not have been attacked again.
At this point, it’s critical to remember that it is very easy to not protect offensive and provocative speech.
It’s even easier to protect non-offensive speech since it requires no protection.
I plead for you not to look at this situation as I predict many will.
A citizen’s most powerful tool to criticize his or her government is social commentary.
While the nature of social commentary often includes content that offends, the freedom to express an individual’s opinion and belief, regardless of his or her social or economic status, is the most fundamental and necessary apparatus for an open-minded society willing to change and adapt as its citizens mature and grow.
A government’s survival is solely dependent on its ability to uphold and defend this natural right. If the government suppresses its citizens’ ideas, the government never lasts. This was the case for both the American Revolution and the French Revolutions.
But freedom of expression is not just an American or French law, it’s an international idea.
Though the terrorists died believing they were martyrs, the dead French citizens are the martyrs.
They died living, upholding, and exercising this freedom.
In a 2012 interview, Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier, who was Charlie Hebdo’s editor – and one of the journalists murdered in Wednesday’s attack – explained his perspective to the French newspaper Le Monde.
“I don’t have kids, no wife, no car, no credit,” Charbonnier told Le Monde. “Maybe it’s a little pompous to say, but I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.”
Charbonnier also defended his cartoons that had offended Muslims by saying, “Muhammad isn’t sacred to me. I don’t blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings. I live under French law; I don’t live under Quranic law.”
Rest in peace, defenders of expression, the French police, and the innocent civilians murdered for a country’s law and natural right.

Kyle Schaff is a Junior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.

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