On 7th January, french newspaper Charlie Hebdo was attacked by members of Al Qaeda in revenge for printing cartoons about the prophet Muhammad.
In an assault that shook the world, 11 employees of the paper were shot and killed, including editor in chief Stéphane Charbonnier who was on the terrorist group’s most wanted list.
The shooters, now known as brothers Chérif and Said Kouachi, fled the scene before being gunned down and killed two days later by police. Whilst leaving the newspaper’s office, they were heard shouting: “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad, we have killed Charlie Hebdo.”
The high profile attack has caused a debate as to whether the newspaper was right to publish cartoons which satirise Muslim leaders and religious figures.
Charlie Hebdo is well known in France as a satirical weekly newspaper, which features cartoons and reports mocking different cultural and religious groups. They are also known as non-conformist, printing views which some people may not agree with.
The paper is allowed to publish its own views because of the french practice of Laïcite. This means that anyone, from journalists to politicians, have the right to say whatever they want. For example Charlie Hebdo have the right to satirise religions. Laïcite is practiced in order to protect the right for freedom of speech.
This is not the first time the publication have had trouble from terrorists because of their use of freedom of speech. They have been fire bombed previously and had their website hacked by people that were not happy with what they were printing. In 2012 riot police had to also surround their offices in case of attacks.
So should the paper, and indeed others journalists be allowed to publish copy that may be seen as offensive to other religions?
Prime Minister David Cameron thinks they should. He agrees that newspapers should be able to publish whatever they want, and is, “simply part of living in a free country.”
Harriet Harman, shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, agrees with Cameron.
“The right of free speech is a basic human right for every individual and no democracy can function without freedom of the press.” she said after the shootings took place.
However, is has been shown that many people disagree. A study carried out by french newspaper Journal du Dimanche found that four out of ten french people think that they shouldn’t have published cartoons of Muhammad.
Sir John Sawers, previous head of the MI6 agrees with this view.
“If you show disrespect of other’s core values then you are going to provoke an angry response.” said John regarding the attack on the newspaper.
Although many are not using this as an excuse for what Al Qaeda did, the question is raised as to whether promoting free speech means that free actions are also justified. Human images of the prophet Muhammad have been long opposed by many Muslims for a number of years, and doing so is defying one of their religion’s key beliefs.
It would be easy to believe that this attack had suppressed free speech, but this is not the case. Four days after the shootings took place, over two million people gathered in Paris to show a display of national unity. The phrase je suis Charlie, meaning I am Charlie, is now known over the World as a sign of solidarity, to show terrorists that they have not succeeded.
The latest edition of Charlie Hebdo sold over seven million copies to different countries around the world, which included a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad on the front holding a sign with Je suis Charlie on. This shows that the newspaper has not suppressed free speech because of the shootings, instead defending it, and as new editor Gérard Biard said: “defending the freedom of religion.”