Call it sheer guts, ideological integrity, or revenge, but the new cover of satirical French publication, Charlie Hebdo, has made its unyielding statement on free-speech loud and clear.
The cartooned image of yet another Prophet Mohammed shows him teary eyed with a sign held that says “Je suis Charlie Hebdo,” the viral phrase which has been the banner of every free-speech march and tweet since. In a press conference regarding the new cover, cartoonist Renald Luzier, stated that they were aware “this was not the front page the world wanted us to make.” Luzier apologized that they drew Prophet Mohammed again but “the Mohamed we drew is a good guy crying above all.” New editor and chief of Charlie Hebdo, Gerard Biard, also pointed out that the Prophet Mohammed in their cartoon was “much nicer” than the one the terrorists represented through their actions. Their words and expressions displayed what seemed to be a blend of sincerity and unrepentance for their decision.
Despite their somewhat pacifying words, the worldwide debate on free speech, which erupted upon the massacre in Paris, grew more frenzied by the release of the cover. According to those at Charlie Hebdo, their cover is more than humor; it is the symbol of what they stand for. While that may be the case, several publications, including the New York Times, have deferred to republish the new cover. In response, Biard protested, “When they decline to publish it. They blur out democracy, secularism, freedom of religion, and they insult the citizenship.” While some publications have explained why they chose not to republish the cover, the irony lies in the fact that they felt the need to do so in response to Biard’s criticism. The implicit right within the right to free speech is the right to not speak if one does not wish to. The pressure Charlie Hebdo exerted on other publications around the world almost contradicts its promotion of free speech for all.
The new cover has been a polarizing catalyst amongst people and publications. Many people are unhappy by what could arouse more provocation. Already there have been threats of retaliation from some Muslim extremists. Other individuals like spokesperson Elsa Ray, of Collective Against Islamophobia in France, are calling out France’s inconsistencies regarding the implementation of the government’s policies on free speech. In 2013, comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala was held legally responsible for an anti-Semitic joke he made during one of his performances. Yet despite complaints made about Charlie Hebdo’s editorial decision to mock the Prophet Mohammed, the judges later dropped the charges. In a recent article by the New York Times, Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, shared his concern about Charlie Hebdo’s decision. “Here’s the thing that troubles me: This is a time when, regardless of your decision to publish or not, we need to stand together behind the principle of freedom of expression. I’d hate to see this become divisive.”
In a classic example of political diplomacy, new chair of the Senate Committee of Homeland Security and Government Affairs and Wisconsin senator, Ron Johnson posited that “There’s always a delicate balance between civil liberties, individual liberties and security…That balance point, that focal point, changes based on the situation.” As much as this statement may be true, it hardly provides any indication of how to judge which of the three factors should and should not be compromised.
The question of free speech is one especially difficult to navigate for Millennials, particularly Christian millennials. Besides inheriting a legacy of volatile relations with the Middle Eastern Muslims, we have also inherited the technology to share our speech as instantaneously as our thoughts. With less physical and temporal filters to restrain instinctive, emotional expression for more reflective statements, it is easier to abuse free speech. It seems that in today’s day and age, there is very little that qualifies as abuse of free speech.
Christianity has its own set of religious values and boundaries that govern speech and thoughts: wisdom and kindness. As such, evangelicals should empathize with the ridicule and lack of respect people of other religions face. We lament over the brutality against Charlie Hebdo and we stand in solidarity for the right to free speech. But true freedom of speech cannot survive abuse without the values to ground it.