Having the freedom to express yourself through speech should not be considered a privilege but a basic human right independent of geographical location. In certain areas of the world, including many Middle Eastern states, freedom of speech is not deemed a fundamental right and is therefore withheld from citizens who are often reprimanded for voicing their opinions, especially if they do not align with the views of the majority.
Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French publication, recently experienced significant backlash due to their lack of restraint in what they publish. With a reputation for testing limits, Charlie Hebdo is notorious for printing controversial articles and images that make light of religious figures and their counterparts. Many religious groups have felt offended and outraged by the material frequently published by the newspaper, calling it blasphemous and even dangerous. However, though many of the pieces issued by the newspaper are indeed blasphemous, they should not be classified as dangerous.
In today’s day and age, sacrilege should not engender violence. With Charlie Hebdo’s frequent portrayal of religious figure Prophet Mohammed, it is undeniable that some belonging to the Islamic faith feel insulted, and reasonably so. Nonetheless, this sentiment should be the limit. Parties moved to enlist violence upon those responsible for the publication are misguided in their goals. Rather than allowing these images to provoke them — a miniscule minority of Muslims — or to serve as fuel to carry out an attack, they should reevaluate the importance of the source of offense to their own lives and faith. By carrying out an assault or instilling fear upon those who offend their beliefs, these individuals do nothing to eliminate these public pronouncements or silence others who share the same opinion, as globally, individuals continue to express their views without constraint. Violence is a temporary and flawed solution. It silences the voices of those harmed but does not mute the imminent accordance of those to come.
In early January of this year, a threat escalated and developed into an attack, resulting in the deaths of 12 individuals. Critics of the newspaper claim that Charlie Hebdo was defiant and negligent in issuing such controversial material, partially excusing the terrorists for their retaliation, while others feel that Charlie Hebdo’s straightforward method of journalism is admissible and should be received without the use of terror. As irreverent and provocative as the newspaper can be, there is never justification for bringing violence to anyone or any group for stating their opinion. When you find yourself offended by a newspaper article, should you pick up a gun or simply put the newspaper down?
While I do not believe that it is necessary to intentionally offend or disrespect groups, religions or any other entities, I stand firmly by my position that every human should have the right to express their opinions without fear of being harmed for doing so.
A satirical outlet, Charlie Hebdo profits from deriding religion, politics, and social norms. It is understandable and expected that a great portion of the public will be offended by the material featured in each issue. However, offense isn’t a valid reason to stop or censor the messages being printed weekly. Being a newspaper, neither substantiated nor endorsed by the French government or authoritative figures, Charlie Hebdo simply serves as a medium to share its views in an entertaining forum and as a substitute to the contrasting newspapers concerned with being politically correct. Ultimately, Charlie Hebdo’s frank and often insolent reports present no genuine threat to any of the many groups it offends.
Similar to the open forum of Charlie Hebdo, Wellesley prides itself on promoting self-expression among students on campus. Wellesley College provides necessary tools for personal emancipation, such as sexual liberation, eradication of gender constraints and reduction of stigma surrounding mental health, to name a few. Despite our granted social freedoms, a small fraction of the community remains susceptible to sensitivity due to opposing viewpoints and opinions. Fortunately, here at Wellesley, we often hold discussions hoping to find common ground and a solution between individuals and groups on campus when conflicts arise.
Students who find themselves offended by various arguments should participate in these public dialogues, as they will benefit from educating themselves on conflicting stances. These discussions and debates are easily modified to suit their purposes. Depending on the severity of the issue being addressed, different measures are taken. Mediating smaller conflicts such as ones regarding Senate bus etiquette or dining hall theft might be facilitated by the use of humor but ones of greater importance, specifically race relations in light of the recent national injustices to the black community or the necessity of a multicultural space for students of Asian and Latin@ descent warrant a more serious, formal tone. Nonetheless, it is evident that this campus has a strategy for pacifying potentially inflammable conflicts on campus. Our willingness to hold open discussions is admirable, a characteristic that should be highly valued both on and off campus.
Photo courtesy of Thomas Bransson