The terrorist attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has resulted in widespread condemnation of the violent suppression of free speech, as well as general support for the concept of satire. But while it is right that our disapproval of violence be unconditional, perhaps Charlie Hebdo’s particular brand of satire should be examined before we all change our profile pictures to say “Je suis Charlie.”
It should go without saying that nobody should feel or be threatened for exercising their right to free expression, regardless of what they believe, but let’s say it anyway. Despite our fondness for mocking the French and eating too many Freedom fries, America and France were born of similar ideals and helped each other through the revolutions that created us. So freedom of speech and the press is an Enlightenment ideal our nations share. As the quote famously misattributed to Voltaire goes, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” And finally, the desire of Charlie Hebdo’s editor Stéphane Charbonnier to “die standing [rather] than live on my knees,” expressed after the publication was firebombed in 2011, is a noble one.
There. We’ve said it. Terrorists bad. Charlie Hebdo good. Je suis Charlie. Nous sommes tous Charlie.