Written by Chelsea Petersen
The aftermath of the religion-motivated shootings of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists saw a show of global unity, as millions of people became Charlie in a display of solidarity and support of the right to free speech. It also sparked the biggest march in French history, as world leaders and citizens took to the streets of Paris in harmony against terrorism. While the initial response to the massacre has been strong and proactive, there are various implications that reach a global scale, most pressingly, further attacks by the Al Qaeda and other radical jihad groups.
Following the march, Prime Minister Manual Valls spoke out against terror, declaring “war on radical jihadists”. Far from demoralising the Al Qaeda, many critics are convinced that Valls’ speech has now given terrorist groups credibility, and more reason to attack. Religion-motivated attacks have been on the rise in the last year, and Islam has remained at the centre, with all members of the religion becoming targets of discrimination and increasing anti-Muslim sentiment all over the world. The fear of more terrorism attacks was reinforced when Charlie Hebdo’s first issue following the shooting boasted a cover featuring the Prophet Mohammed with sad teary eyes, holding a sign saying, “Je suis Charlie”. The caption below read “All is forgiven”. Given that the disrespect of the Prophet was the reason for the attack, it stands to reason that the cover may be seen as further provocation, while many viewed the cover as an insult to the many Muslims who marched in solidarity with the magazine. Anti-Muslim sentiments were also reinforced, when influential media figurehead, Rupert Murdoch, tweeted that all Muslims, “must be held responsible”. While there was much public opposition to Murdoch’s controversial statement, his opinion is shared by many all over the world. All Muslims cannot be grouped with the guilty extremists or be held accountable, though this seems to be the implication of the increasing anti-Muslim behaviour. At the same time, Charlie Hebdo should also be held accountable for its racist and xenophobic content that sparked the shooting.
The world has been on a united front in support of those who died in the name of freedom of speech, but Charlie Hebdo has managed to universally warp what that freedom actually means. The magazine is well known for its offensive and disrespectful content, and while a massacre was in no way justified, it seems that they have been held accountable for abusing its right to free speech. The magazine has always maintained that the cartoons are intended to be humorous, but it is quite clear why much of its content could be viewed as hate speech, especially to the Muslim community. The right to free speech has always had its limits, but marching for Charlie Hebdo has created the global implication that anyone can say whatever they feel, and on any platform, without any consequences. How the world will move forward following the example of Charlie Hebdo remains to be seen, though the Charlie Hebdo fiasco has also revealed holes in the unity concept. During the same period in which the shootings took place, 2000 people were murdered in Nigeria by extremist group, Boko Haram, and several villages were razed to the ground.
As of yet, no world leader has made a statement in solidarity with the Nigerian public, Charlie Hebdo still dominates the headlines, and no aid has been sent to Nigeria. While people all over the world rage against the threat to free speech, the loss of 2000 Nigerian lives has gone unnoticed by the global community. It has often been speculated that white lives are more important than black lives. The lack of response to the Nigerian massacre seems a clear indication that Africa bares little importance to the Western world, where free speech claims more emphasis.
The phenomenal increase in sales of Charlie Hebdo is a clear indication of this, as people rushed to buy the magazine in a mass show of support for freedom of speech rights. Contrary to the idealistic notion of people unified in their support of free speech, the presence of certain heads of state in the Paris march who do not allow freedom of expression in their own countries is hypocritical, and suggests some rather cynical exploitation of the circumstances.
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