Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French magazine, is no stranger to controversy. Known for its offensive cartoons, it features cartoons criticizing numerous subjects, but Islam is often the victim. Recent attacks by Islamic extremists were by no means just, but they have raised questions about freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
The “survivor’s issue” released a week after the fatal attack on the magazine’s headquarters, flaunts an image of Muhammad holding a sign: “Je Suis Charlie.” (I am Charlie.) A typical circulation for the magazine is about 60,000 copies, but the 3 million printed on January 14th sold out immediately.
Poking fun at religion may seem harmless, but when satire sparks murder threats around the world, further provocation is arguably not the best reaction. Many people applaud the magazine for not “backing down” after the incident, but Charlie has just crossed the line once more.
Publications should be working to debunk stereotypes–not encouraging–or even creating them. The media often dictates social conventions, so if it continues to degrade minorities (as Islam) prejudice will only increase. In Niger, for example, protests have killed 10 people, injured 173, and destroyed infrastructure and churches. In Pakistan, Algeria, and Jordan, police have used force break up hundreds of Muslim protesters. One photographer was shot and killed. In Gaza, French citizens are facing threats of throat slashing and slaughter if they do not leave.
This unfolding saga serves as a warning to people within all outlets: it may be legal to say, but it is not always what needs to be heard. Words have become sticks and stones and are powerful weapons in these days of free press.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics urges journalists to “Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.”
Written by Annie Dunlap’15, Avanti Patel’15, Kendall Silwonuk’15, and Caroline Anders’17