Je Suis Charlie: Between Freedom of Expression and Respect for Others

Ryan Lake


On the morning of Jan. 7, in Paris, two militant Islamists opened fire on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people and injuring 11 others.

Charlie Hebdo was well-known for its irreverent and anti-religious cartoons and articles and had been attacked before in the past. However, such a brazen attack on freedom of speech did not go unnoticed. Four days later on Jan. 11, more than 2 million people including 40 world leaders met in Paris for a rallying day of unity with the rallying cry “Je Suis Charlie(“I am Charlie”).

Several students at MUW expressed their thoughts on the attacks and its implications.

“It was really shocking. You never really hear about France having issues with terrorists. It just shows the situation just how much people value their freedoms. It’s just disturbing that things like that happen, but I never feel endangered or anything,” said Tamara Rutledge, a psychology major with a creative writing minor.

Rutledge said that she didn’t have any concerns that her writing would spark such outrage. Other students felt that there was much to be learned from the attacks.  

“I feel that somebody thought it [the attack] was justified. I feel no matter what they said, racist or not, it wasn’t justified. Do I feel that my freedom of speech has been threatened? No, I don’t feel it has, especially with the resounding support around Europe for freedom of speech. I think it highlights problems with politics and political rifts in France. I can understand why Muslims would feel discriminated against due to certain bans on religious wear, but still that’s no reason for violence,” said George Stoner, a biology major.  

Many pundits questioned the Muslim community’s unconvincing condemnation of the attacks and extremism in general, but Stoner’s feelings differed on that point.

“Unless you’re purposing conflating the two, they really don’t go together. Moderate Muslims and Islamic extremists aren’t the same thing. At all,” said Stoner.

Other students sought deeper meaning for the attacks rather than merely making it a poster child for attacks on the freedom of speech.

“When I first heard about it I thought in my mind ‘this is so random,’ but as I looked into I saw there was a reason behind it. This wasn’t just a bunch a people who said ‘you know what we’re gonna do, we’re going to do this today,’” said Michaela Donohue, a creative writing major.

Donohue did her research because she felt the outrage reported in the news media was not looking for the real answer.

“They felt like they [the terrorists] were being attacked. I don’t think they were justified but it just goes to show you can’t just say they just decided to do this, that they did this just because they’re terrorists. That’s just not a good enough answer,” said Donahue.

For Donahue, the issue is a search for understanding of why this tragedy happened and what freedom of speech really means.

“I had to delve deeper. The news was basically saying to me they’re terrorists, but once I looked it I was like ‘Oh!’ There were racist remarks made. We’ve been given freedom of speech there’s limits to it. There are boundaries to what freedom of speech is. Obviously if you say something offensive people are going to come after you. There are limits to what freedom of speech is.”