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The Fight For Free Speech #JeSuisCharlie

The death of a dozen innocent victims draws our attention to the issue of free speech. Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly newspaper that has an infamous reputation for being reactionary, irreverent and stridently non-conformist in tone. The magazine has been targeted by terrorists in the past, four years ago when the newspaper’s office was firebombed and it’s website hacked. Charlie Hebdo responded to the attacks by distributing some four times the usual number of copies. The newspaper emphasizes the importance of free speech, proving to the public that despite the lamentable loss it has experienced it will continue to publish on a weekly basis.

The most recent issue after the shooting sold over seven million copies. The shooting began when two masked gunmen armed with automatic weapons assulted the Charlie Hebdo offices on Rue Serpollet in Paris. Brothers Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi fired an estimated fifty shots while inside the building. They were heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” (translation: Arabic for God is the greatest). The shooters later identified themselves as belonging to Al-Qaeda, more specifically it’s branch in Yemen.

The French government was put on a national security level of high alert. A massive manhunt later led to the discovery of the suspects. During a violent getaway, police exchanged gunshots, conclusively ending the pursuit with the death of the two terrorists.

Demonstrations soon began in Paris. Millions of people fled to the streets to protest against the violence. World leaders met for a rally of national unity to honour the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, voicing their support for free speech. Interestingly some of the cartoonists working for the newspaper did not respond well to the rallies. Willem, an employee of Charlie Hebdo was quoted saying that “We vomit on those who suddenly declared that they were our friends”. He feels that many of the same people who were protesting for the freedom of speech were also some of the his harshest critics.

Many leaders who attended the rally of national unity were exposed as hypocrites over social media, most notably by a London School of Economics student named Daniel Wickham. Many of them participating in censorship or incarcerating journalists for speaking out against the government.

This definitely brings to mind the famous French philosopher Voltaire who once said that “I may not agree with what you have to say, but i’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

Social media played an even larger role as the hashtag #JeSuisChalie trended on twitter, allowing the international community to share it’s thoughts about free speech. Despite the death of a dozen innocent victims, the discussion continues. Should we be allowed to say whatever we want? Does the right to free speech impede on any of our other rights? Where do we draw the line?

By: Lucas Philipp

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