The Mighty Pen

In the the January 15 issue of The Phillipian, Claire Gallou, Instructor in French, published her powerful piece “#jesuischarlie”. Her article discussed the implications of the January 7 “Charlie Hebdo” attacks and advocated for the rights to free speech. She called the student body to action: “I hope our community will tackle the topic more systematically and broadly.”

And yet, three weeks later, there has not been much discussion at all. Outside of Gallou’s French classes and a handful of club meetings, the terrorist attacks – dubbed by some to be France’s “9/11” – have been largely forgotten. There has been be no panel, no campus-wide discussion. The event has not received anything near the level of attention experienced in the wake of the grand jury cases in Ferguson and Staten Island; there was no email from the school, no statement reaffirming its commitment to unoppressed speech.
I still remember the unprecedented shock I felt as I watched the amateur videos of terrorists storming the “Charlie Hebdo” office building. The audio sounded like a “Call of Duty” video game, but the violence was not limited to a screen, taking place on the very streets of Paris I walked a few short years ago.

The immediate public response was huge. Over a million Parisians took to the streets, marching shoulder to shoulder throughout the city, in Place de la République, with one message: “Je suis Charlie.” Even if you don’t agree with the content of “Charlie Hebdo”, they challenged concepts of free speech and satire. To them, nothing was off-limits – there were no limits. Four cartoonists took a stand for freedom of speech and did not budge. Held at gunpoint, they refused to let extremists censor their content. Even after the offices were firebombed, “Charlie Hebdo” defiantly published an issue the very next week, their message of freedom stronger than ever.

Though the incredible solidarity on display by the French should not fall by the wayside, there is a message, particularly pertinent to Andover, that rings true. From the carnage of “Charlie Hebdo”, we can salvage hope and a lesson: the pen remains mightier than the sword.

At Andover, our words matter. Our community prides itself on our insightful discussions on progressive topics, from racial inclusion to gender equality. Our Martin Luther King, Jr. Day programming was created out of student protest. Our school newspaper is uncensored and not subject to prior review. But why aren’t we talking about “Charlie Hebdo”? Why aren’t we advocating for freedom of speech?

We can no longer take our free speech for granted – we need to begin talking. Hold a forum. Send a blast email. Do anything to let the community know that Andover is not isolated from these incidents.

This week, there will be several showings of the movie Selma, so I will leave you with a paraphrase of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: A threat to freedom of speech anywhere is a threat to freedom of speech everywhere.