Je Suis Charlie: fighting back against the oppression of free speech

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Jenna Stanley

The Emblem for the Je Suis Charlie movement/

Jenna Stanley, Page Editor/Layout Editor

Journalists around the world are increasingly at risk of being killed or imprisoned for doing their jobs, a situation that imperils both press and individual freedom. When journalists are silenced, whether through violence or laws, perpetrators are able to obscure misdeeds and disempower citizens.

On Jan. 7, two masked gunmen later identified as Islamic extremists, forced their way into the offices of Charlie Hedbo, a French satirical newspaper based in Paris. 12 people were killed in the attack, along with seven others who were injured. During the attack, the gunmen shouted “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.” As they left they were reported as saying that they had avenged the prophet Muhammad.

Prior to the attack, Charlie Hedbo had gained attention for its depictions of the prophet Muhammad, which according to Islamic tradition is forbidden.

Two days later, the staff responded with the first edition of Charlie Hedbo after the shooting, which featured a caricature of the prophet Muhammad shedding a tear while holding a sign that bore the words “Je Suis Charlie,” which translates to “I am Charlie” in French, along with the words “Tout est pardonne,” which translates to “All is forgiven,” across the entire front cover.

Within a short period of time, “Je Suis Charlie” became one of the most popular Twitter hashtags in history. It was embraced worldwide, and became a symbol of fighting back to preserve self-expression and the freedom of speech.  While they brought momentary fear, the attackers brought the exact opposite of what they intended- serving to unite the world against them and all others using their personal beliefs for political gain.

Charlie Hedbo and the entirety of Paris refuse to bow to those trying to silence them and control their personal freedoms. Charlie has since sworn to uphold its tradition of publishing controversial content despite the ongoing threats against them.

Throughout 2014 all around the world, according to cpj.org, over 100 journalists and media workers have died doing their job; and many were executed simply for their employment status. The Charlie Hedbo shooting is one of many incidents, following the ISIS massacre of journalists and the threats to the U.S. from North Korea regarding the controversial film “The Interview”. Je Suis Charlie is now a rallying cry as well as an international symbol of empowerment and fighting back against oppression to preserve the basic freedom of speech.

Leaders of France should state clearly that all French citizens have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and that pursuant to these rights, the freedom to express their ideas -loved, hated, feared, or ignored-  is a foundational right. Leaders of every other country, and most assuredly the United States, (where those rights were enshrined at our country’s founding) should shout the same statement with veracity.