Charlie Hebdo- the Thin Line Between Freedom of Speech and Religious Offense

Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical weekly magazine, famous in France for its cartoons, reports, polemics, and jokes that poke fun at religion, politics, culture, and more. Charlie Hebdo's publications have been viewed controversially throughout the world, and the magazine has been the target of a few terrorist attacks. The magazine has made headlines again in 2015.

On January 7, just a week into the new year, two Islamist radicals forced their way into and opened fire in the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris. The attack killed 12 people, including some of the country's most renowned cartoonists and writers. The shootings sparked an international outcry, and France raised its terror alert to its highest level, deploying more than 80,000 soldiers to begin one of the biggest man hunts ever. On January 9, the suspects, brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi were found. The brothers had taken hostages at a signage company, and were gunned down when they came from the building, firing at the police.

On January 11, about two million people, including more than 40 world leaders marched in a rally of national unity in Paris, and 3.7 million people took part in demonstrations across France. The phrase, Je suis Charlie (French: I am Charlie) was a common slogan of support at the demonstrations and on social media.

After the rally, Charlie Hebdo continued its weekly publication, and its most recent issue has sold a record breaking 7 million copies, published in 6 languages. Unrest in Niger followed this latest publication, resulting in deaths, injuries, and atleast nine churches destroyed.

The Georgia Straight

The Georgia Straight

The Charlie Hebdo shootings have once again placed a spotlight on the extremely subtle line between freedom of expression and religious or cultural offence. Freedom of speech is a human right, and every single individual is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs. At the same time, they are also allowed to share their beliefs with others, perhaps even publicise them. But what happens if my beliefs clashed with someone else's beliefs?

This is the main issue- the main reason why we have wars, terrorist attacks, and political clashes. Conflicting view points are found to be at the heart of almost every strife this world has seen. There is no clear line between freedom of speech and insulting someone's culture and faith, and because this line is so subtle, it is very difficult to point fingers at anyone in times like this.

In my opinion, I feel that Charlie Hebdo did have the right to publish cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. I also feel that killing someone (or participating in something that endangers the lives of others) is an unforgivable sin, one that goes against all human ethics and morals. However, at the same time, I do not agree with what Charlie Hebdo published. Freedom of speech may be a right, but at the same time, if what you are saying is reaching the eyes of millions of people, this freedom is also a privilege- one that should be used responsibly. As Pope Francis said, on his recent visit to Sri Lanka, freedom of speech should not be used to mock someone else's religious beliefs, because for some, their religion may be all that they have.

However, above all this, the biggest crime a human can commit is to take the lives of others. Religious offence is not a valid reason to brutally murder not one, but twelve individuals.

The events concerning Charlie Hebdo have shown us that even in this world of publication, the sharing of ideas, and free speech, conflicting perspectives can still take the world by storm.