On the morning of the 7th January, armed men entered the Parisian offices of Charlie Hebdo, the bastion of the French satirical press, in a pre-planned and well-orchestrated attack that killed twelve, wounded eleven and has placed four in a critical condition. Previously under police protection for his publications’ provocative content, Stephane Charbonnier, the paper’s editor in chief, fell victim to the attack, alongside other veteran cartoonists regarded as pillars of political satire in France; Jean Cabut, Georges Wolinski and Bernard Verlhac.
The fatal gunfire unleashed upon the magazine’s most rambunctious and irreverent cartoonists further disseminates Charbonnier’s ideology to fight intimidation with controversy and satire. Despite his publication’s continued bitter relationship with Islamic extremists, he stood strong in the face of terrorisation, refusing to bend to attacks or threats. Speaking out in an interview in 2012, he attested that he would “rather die standing than live on [his] knees,” adding that he had “no fear of retaliation… It is our job to draw about actuality.”
This savage massacre not only served as a direct attack on a single publication, but also an attack on France as a country and a pillar western democracy. Satire has long been a form of political expression and critique; in their effort to silence it today the terrorists attempted to silence the very foundations of the French Republic. This has been met by critique from political leaders across the world; Barack Obama, David Cameron, and Angela Merkel have all quickly condemned the attack and its wider assault on the freedom of the press. Obama articulated his support for France, defending the ‘universal belief in the freedom of expression as something that can’t be silenced by the senseless violence of a few.’ Illuminated by this brutal massacre is the notion that militants will not accept that their religion can be traduced in any way, and and have proven their murderous capabilities in their fight for uniformity. The western ideals we continue to defend were not granted; they were fought for and won, and therefore must be protected from assailants.
“I might not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll fight to the death your right to say it,” Voltaire.
Despite the hailing of the incident as revenge for insulting Mohammed by Jihadi sympathisers, Muslims in France and around the world have united with the West in condemnation of the deadliest terror attack France has seen in the past five decades. These Muslims should not be incriminated against and classified in the same band as the minority who committed the atrocity; we need to battle both Islamophobia and terrorism. Solidarity must be shown to those threatening the very foundational principles of western civilisation. Incidents like this have the potential to further divide our societies, but they must not add fuel to the fire that burns hatred.