**Monday, January 5.** I am looking for a recent press article and perhaps some cartoons for my French 520 course, in which the theme this term happens to be satire. The most popular satirical newspaper in France, “Le Canard Enchaîné,” cannot be found online, and I forgot to ask my mom to scan it for me. So I take a look at “Charlie Hebdo.” It is an extreme example of the genre, and I ponder. Do I bring this to class? Will they understand the references? Will they be offended? After a few minutes, I decide against using the magazine and start looking elsewhere.
**Wednesday, January 7.** Two terrorists walk into the editing room of “Charlie Hebdo” in Paris. They call the names of famous cartoonists and journalists there and execute eight of them, one by one. They also kill a guest of the editorial board, a custodian and two police officers before driving away. A manhunt ensues. The terrorists take hostages. A SWAT team intervenes, and the terrorists, two brothers, are killed on Friday night. Meanwhile, a friend of theirs has killed a police officer and also taken hostages in a Jewish supermarket in southern Paris. Special forces intervene on Friday night as well, and the terrorist is killed, after already having killed four hostages.
The Kouachi brothers, the terrorists, said they acted to avenge the prophet Mohammed, because “Charlie Hebdo” had been publishing caricatures of the prophet for years. They had both been recruited by radical Islamists ten years prior and had become Jihad fighters.
**Sunday, January 11.** About 3.7 million people walk the streets of France, including about 1.5 million in Paris, the largest gathering recorded in the history of the country. Representatives of 50 states around the world, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization Mahmoud Abbas, join French President François Hollande and the crowd to declare that they are not afraid of such acts of terror and to defend the freedom of speech. Many in the crowd hold the sign that you have undoubtedly seen somewhere on the internet or on my apartment door: #jesuischarlie.
The magnitude of these events does not lie in the number of casualties. Otherwise, we would be turning to Nigeria right now to find much more serious situations (and please do that if you have not already. Very little information filters out of Nigeria, and media coverage is scarce). Rather, the events of January 7 and their impact on international relations, the fight against terrorism and the question of racism and freedom around the world must call our attention here at Andover.
Many have labeled these attacks as the French 9/11, not to give them more importance, but because the consequences could be quite similar. The French are now turning to the United States to gauge how similar of a response France should have compared to that of America after 2001. Should there be a version of the Patriot Act in France? A no-fly list based on algorithms? A French Guantanamo Bay? Self-censorship of the media? Invasion of a country?
A major, worldwide discussion on freedom of the press — and the freedom of speech — also ensued shortly after the events. While French citizens, including children, marched in the streets of Paris holding pencils high in the air, other people thought that “Charlie Hebdo” had gone too far. American media outlets found themselves caught in a heated debate over what should or should not be published in the United States. Most refused to reproduce “Charlie Hebdo” cartoons. Where are the limits of free speech? Should fear regulate what is published? Two important distinctions now need to be made. First, a distinction between radical Islam leading to terrorism and the Muslim community at large that is attached to peace. The United States has also been working on that distinction for over a decade. Second, one must separate the march on Sunday from the debate over the limits of free speech. Indeed, #jesuischarlie (“Iamcharlie”) does not mean that one agrees with everything that “Charlie Hebdo” publishes. First, it means compassion. It means that no one should die for something they put on paper. It means that these artists were well-known and are being mourned by their people (one of them, Cabu, was my favorite cartoonist as a child). Second, it means that fear will not prevail. It means that the French — and the 50 other nations that were represented on Sunday, including the United States – will not let fear dictate what they can or cannot do. It also means that a nation wants to unite against terrorism, instead of letting it divide it.
You will see many statements about how offensive “Charlie” is. You will read that it is Anti-Semitic, and then, you will read that it clearly targets Muslims. You will read that it has an agenda. The thing is, “Charlie” is a thorn in France’s side and purposefully so. Everyone feels offended at some point, but “Charlie”’s satire ensures that what no one wants to hear, what we would prefer to deny or ignore, is brought out into the open. Satire is the seed of revolutions (think French revolution!) and the guardian of democracy. You will see #jenesuispascharlie (“Iamnotcharlie”) a lot too, mostly to state a disagreement with some of the magazine’s content. I believe that is a misunderstanding of the original phrase (which started as a simple impromptu status posted on Facebook by somebody in France right after the attack – it went viral within a few hours).
Whether “Charlie” goes too far in some of its content is a separate and complex debate, involving culture and history as well as globalization and law. Free speech in France does not mean that you can say anything you want. Laws against hate speech are stricter in France than in the United States, and there is a specific law against Anti-Semitism, for historical reasons (75,000 French citizens were killed in the Holocaust). So while you hear a comment like “Kill them all” on an American TV newscast, you would never hear it in France. Any incentive toward violence is illegal. That is the limit set for free speech there. What we can discuss is how to define what instigates violence. In France, courts take charge of that.
Now, think about the relevance of these issues here at Andover. Are we interested in issues of national security, intelligence and global terrorism? Do we have anything to say about the Patriot Act? Have you ever heard of controversies on our campus over what is offensive or not — what should be published or not? Have you ever wondered about the tension between microaggressions and self-censorship? Does the concept of sensitivity surrounding social justice issues ring a bell?
So, both the importance of these events on the international scale and their relevance to the Andover community make it necessary to discuss them here on our campus. Some students have done so, in classes or at club meetings. Some still do not know anything about what happened or about the issues raised by the attacks and the march. I hope our community will tackle the topic more systematically and broadly.
For example, from the discussions I had in my classes after the events, I gathered that self-censorship on our campus has become a problem and is preventing dialogue as well as fostering intolerance. Some students do not speak up, because they fear retaliation or contempt. Many feel that they have to pick a side, because it is just not cool to be “in the middle” on an issue. Many feel pressured into an opinion when they are not informed and cannot make their own decision. As a faculty member, I want to talk about these things with you. I want to feel the thorns in my side.
Here is another relevant issue. The Phillipian cannot afford to do anything like what “Charlie” does, because it is not one of the many newspapers with a variety of opinions on campus. It is the only newspaper on campus, so it must represent the entire community. Precisely for that reason, however, it must represent a real variety of opinions and must give a voice not only to the majority on campus, but also to others, even some that could be considered irreverent or undesirable. It must be wary of its own self-censorship and define its limits (which I believe should exist) carefully. People can respond, critique and discuss views expressed in the paper. That is democracy, and we have rules to prevent the debate from going too far. This discussion should be rekindled following events such as those in Paris.
Today, I would not hesitate. Even though I do not read “Charlie” myself since personally, I find it too blunt, and even though I disagree with some of what it publishes, I would – in fact, brace yourselves, 520 fans, I will – bring to class articles from “Charlie Hebdo.” And I bet most students will be curious to see them. These events have made me realize that, even as a French citizen, I had started self-censoring myself and what I showed in my classes because of a level of political correctness that troubles me. We need to step out of our comfort zones for our sakes, the sake of our children and the sake of democracy.
_Claire Gallou is an Instructor in French from Eaubonne, France._