When journalists are killed and free speech threatened, the papers and news teams go into overdrive mode. Twitter goes insane, with hashtags trending quicker than you can type, and the front pages of national papers are covered with details on the ‘attack on freedom’.
Yesterday, 12 people were killed after two masked gunmen attacked the offices of satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris. This incident is France’s most lethal terrorist attack in the past two decades.
Charlie Hebdo has received violent attacks in the past, following a publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. In 2011, its offices were firebombed, and more recently, threats have been made against journalists and other media groups. Gérard Biard, Charlie Hebdo’s editor in chief, escaped the attacks as he was in London. He said the magazine had no specific threats of violence made against it, stating “a newspaper is not a weapon of war”.
In the Times, columnist David Aaronovitch says fear of inciting violence has in a perverse way encouraged it. Aaronovitch states: “We who don’t publish what may offend Muslims but would offend no one else, act in effect to abnormalise what should be normal – we help make peculiar that which should be banal.”
After studying various graphic novels in an English Literature class last term, I understand and appreciate the powerful effect comics and graphic fiction can have. Satire is key, not just for cartoons, but for journalists too. Yes, not everyone is going to agree with an opinionated article or comic strip, and it would be boring if we did. Whilst these pieces can sometimes cause offence, they also act as a way of presenting a distorted version of reality, helping us comment on the world we live in.
Humour is essential in writing and comics. The jokers should not be killed for publishing their opinions. But now, due to this brutal totalitarian act, comedy is killed by sadness and no one stands laughing.
Our freedom of speech is something we have to stand up for, to protect, to use, to empower. #JeSuisCharlie