Charlie Hebdo: Professors discuss French colonialism, responsible journalism following Parisian massacre

Scott Murphy, News Editor

On January 7, two gunmen entered the Paris headquarters of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which initiated three days of terror in France that resulted in seventeen deaths and inspired protests across Europe and the Middle East.

The gunmen, two jihadist brothers (both French citizens) with ties to Al-Qaeda operations in Syria and Yemen, targeted the magazine due to its frequent criticism of Islam and specifically its past publication of satirical cartoons that sacrilegiously depict the prophet Muhammad (mere depiction of the prophet is in itself an act of blasphemy in Islam).

Eight journalists attending a weekly editorial meeting at the headquarters were killed by the two gunmen, as well as a caretaker, visitor and two police officers.

A chase by French police forces then ensued, which ended finally on January 9 when both gunmen were killed after a standoff with police.

Two other shootings occurred within this time frame, both of which have since been determined by French officials to be tied to the original Charlie Hebdo shooting.

One lone gunman killed a policewoman in the Paris suburb of Montrougue, while another took hostages in a kosher supermarket and killed four people before being killed by police.

Charlie Hebdo has continued their weekly publication schedule despite the attacks, with their first issue since the incident being published on January 14 with a cover depicting the prophet Muhammad shedding a tear and holding a sign saying “Je suis Charlie,” a solidaristic rallying cry used by supporters of the magazine which translates to “I am Charlie.”

Above him appears the phrase “Tout est pardonné,” which translates to “All is forgiven.”

Father Jerome Day, O.S.B., an Assistant Professor of communications and English with a prior career in the field of journalism, stressed the importance of the Western tradition of preserving freedom of expression.

“While respect for others and their beliefs is important in any civilized society, the Western tradition has long recognized the importance of freedom of speech, even when that speech is annoying, disturbing and irreverent,” Father Jerome posited. “If the West is to preserve its heritage of free speech, those who live in our society must recognize that the way I preserve freedom of expression is by recognizing another’s. The attack on the cartoonists, reporters and editors of Charlie Hebdo was an outrageous attack on us all. The best way to defeat ideas that we find obnoxious is by sharing ideas that are stronger, better and true.

Junior Rebecca Mullin is currently studying international business at the American Business School of Paris for her spring semester, and shared her experiences thus far in the country.

“I live in the 20th arrondissement (which is where the Charlie Hebdo headquarters is), and so far, there have been no protests that I’ve seen, but a lot of military and police walking around in the streets, metro and tourist attractions and a lot of army trucks driving around. There are also signs everywhere saying ‘Je suis Charlie’ and ‘Nous sommes Charlie’” Mullin explained.

She added that “I was very nervous before coming here because of what happened, but I feel very safe and in no danger from the incident itself. Although, I am very aware of the potential issues that can further arise.”

Assistant French Professor Caroline Wakaba Futamura, who has conducted research on Muslim women in Morocco, provided insight into the history of French colonialization that added context to the situation.

Many French Muslim citizens immigrated from or have ancestry in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, with the colonial relationship between these countries and France having provoked a strained history, particularly the brutal French-Algerian war fought over Algerian independence.

It is this history of oppression and rebellion that kindles radical Islamists’ agenda, with Professor Futamura adding that their use of religious justification masks these deeper issues.

Professor Futamura went on to describe Islam as a peaceful religion based on her interactions with individual Muslims in Morocco, and cautioned that critiques of Islam like Charlie Hebdo’s publications ultimately aggrieved all Muslims in the process of targeting individual terrorists.

“Freedom of expression was originally intended to protect minorities from injustice, but in this instance, the press misused that right to do destructive things,” Professor Futamura explained. “Just as these terrorists distort Islam, Charlie Hebdo distorted the spirit of freedom of expression.”

Chair of the Politics Department Barbara Baudot, who has worked for the United Nations and maintains a residency in France, elaborated further on this issue of interpreting these freedoms.

“Freedom of speech is a great thing, but it needs to come with a sense of good taste and empathy for the other,” Professor Baudot shared. “Why make fun of all Muslims by satirizing Mohammed, a very sacred figure for them? Why not satirize one of the terrorist leaders instead?”

Professor Baudot continued by describing publications like Charlie Hebdo’s as incriminating all Muslims, most of whom are merely peaceful underdogs that are “Suffering terribly at the hands of their own radicals as well as colonialism and imperialism from the West.”