Editors go head-to-head on Charlie Hebdo and free speech

Sasha Larson and Andalib Samandari

 First amendment, first priority

They were murdered because of a joke.

On Jan. 7, two brothers, angered by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s depiction of the prophet Mohammed, stormed into their Parisian office and shot down 11 people.

Islam forbids any likeness, illustrated or otherwise, of Mohammed. Charlie Hebdo writers – not Muslims – portrayed him on their cover.

Charlie Hebdo is a magazine that teases every group, but for the brothers, poking fun at religion was reason enough to plot a killing spree.

Add this to the “The Interview” scandal – when Sony Pictures was hacked, North Korea made threats and most theaters withheld a comedy about taking down a dictator – and we’ve got a claw at our freedom of speech.

People have the right to speak their mind, a concept illustrated with mental images of protests and speeches preaching causes. Yet it goes deeper than that. We need to remember and recognize our freedom of speech immediately when it comes to jokes and satires.

Writer Bret Easton Ellis calls us “generation wuss” – too scared to handle anything halfway politically incorrect. We can safely say this must end here.

We are lucky enough to live in a country that allows free speech. To bash someone for saying what they want – let alone shoot them – flashes an ungrateful finger at democracy.

While Paris and North Korea may seem worlds away, the effects of these stories hit close to home. Talk of “The Interview” flitted around school halls and mournful “Je Suis Charlie” pictures haunted social media.

However edgy or inappropos the media may become, we cannot allow anyone to threaten our liberty.

Make jokes. Voice your opinion. Let Ted Nugent call Obama a “subhuman mongrel.” Don’t silence yourself just because someone might be offended.

Maybe it’s the influx of causes we’ve got today. Maybe kids are taught to be more sensitive. Maybe the times are changing. These, however, are no excuses. We need to stand up for our rights.

We need to learn to laugh again.

– Sasha Larson


 Did you know you’re not funny?

Before you read any further, open up Google Images and search “Charlie Hebdo Mohammed” with Safesearch turned off. (Warning: some pictures are extremely vulgar.)

The now infamous French magazine Charlie Hebdo published caricatures of the prophet Mohammed in various indecent poses ranging from beheadings to pornography. Who decided “freedom of speech” meant “freedom to disrespect, deface and degrade a culture”?

In response, two Muslim men gunned down 11 of the magazine’s staff. Unfortunately, the French populace’s reaction turned from protest to full-on Islamophobia.

Protesters marched through Muslim ghettoes. Revenge attackers blew up mosques. While the terrorists have no excuse for murder, a nation responded by persecuting members of its second largest religion.

You have every reason to be angry when your prophet is humiliated in front of your whole country. Charlie Hebdo’s late editor wrote, “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing.”

President Obama dropped some nuggets of wisdom for the American public: “If, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults.”

While free speech is a right, labeling juvenile insults as “free speech” only aggravates existing cultural tension. Even worse is passing off insults as a joke.

Two summers ago, comedian Daniel Tosh was in the middle of his routine when a female audience member complained about a rape comment he made. Tosh replied by saying, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now? Like right now?”

Both Charlie Hebdo and Daniel Tosh were legally right, but both were morally wrong. Lowering your standards for a reaction, a chuckle or a few extra copies sold is way out of line. Prominent figures should take the blame for what their gullible audience thinks and believes.

Less than a week after the incident, Tosh “apologized” by tweeting that “there are awful things in the world but you can still make jokes about them. #deadbabies.”

No, Tosh. No, Charlie. You can’t.

– Andalib Samandari