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On Jan. 7, 2015 the satirical French magazine offices of Charlie Hebdo, located in Paris, were assaulted by masked gunmen leading to the death of at least 10 people including four cartoonists for the magazine. News of the vicious attack spread far and wide at a rapid pace, with a subsidiary of Al Qaeda taking credit a few weeks later. What happened in Paris sent ripples throughout the global community, even here at Radford University.
To understand why what happened at Charlie Hebdo occurred, one must first understand the magazines’ often times controversial history.
Eric Du Plessis, a French professor here at Radford University, and a native Parisian of 18 years offered an explanation of Charlie Hebdo’s role in French media.
“Before it was called Charlie in the ’60s it went under another name. They were very anarchy-driven, poking fun at everything and everyone, no one was immune.”
The magazine ran into a tough time after the death of French president, Charles De Gaulle.
“They ran a headline about his death the week after he died, which was surprising to some, because even if you hated the man politically, you had to cut him some slack. He was a huge figure in France,” he said.
After running the headline, the magazine was forced to shut down through a loophole in French law that had to do with “being considered a threat to national security and insulting the president.”
A year later, they reopened under the name Charlie Hebdo.
“They had the same writers, cartoonists and staff, but a different name.” Du Plessis said.
Throughout the decades Charlie Hebdo became a huge part of French culture.
“Everyone read it: Catholics, Protestants, priests, Jews and Muslims,” Du Plessis said. “There is something in the French mentality that just wants to tell the authority, the man, to go to hell.”
At the dawn of the 21st century, Charlie Hebdo gained attention for drawing a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad in a crude way. This sparked protests throughout the Middle East and France, which has a 10 percent Muslim population.
“Everyone waited to see what they (Charlie) would do next week.” Said Du Plessis. The following week, the magazine made a cartoon even more controversial of the prophet.
Du Plessis explained, “It was a drawing of Mohammad hunched over, naked from the back, taking a dump with his head turned so you could only see one side of it with a caption reading, ‘Can you still see my face?'”
Images such as those are highly controversial and open up a large discussion on just how free speech should be.
Professor Ahmad Azzam, a teacher of Arabic and political science as well as a native Jordanian lent his opinion on the attacks.
“The perpetrators of these attacks are not Islam. In the Quran, Mohammad says to not shed the blood of innocents, and to only harm those that attack you,” he said.
While Azzam condemns the use of violence and extremists of any religion he said “that France could have prevented it, when it comes to insulting people, there is a point. He believes that there should be a law forbidding the insulting of any religious prophet, not just for Muslims, but Christians and Jews as well.”
While Azzam’s point is a more extreme solution to preventing attacks, many people do share his sentiment that these horrific attacks could have been prevented.
Adam Savage, a political science and history major said, “I think people should be aware especially in a situation like the ones that magazine were in, that what they publish, especially since they’ve had issues with it in the past, can lead to situations like this. What happened was tragic, but, sadly not surprising.”
On the other hand, people in the media industry such as Max Esterhuizen, a communication graduate student, Core 201 teacher and writer for the online sports publication Rivals.com said, “I don’t see attacks like this strengthening or weakening freedom of speech overall, that being said people should be aware of what they said but, that magazine was there to entertain and be funny, and I think the full context of that should be taken into account.”
Mr. Parker, a teacher of Coms 104, a news writing class, as well as a public relations employee at Virginia Tech added, “I don’t think that images like this can’t be talked about. There is going to be a point in my class where I might have to show an example of something like that cartoon, and I can’t shy away from it.”
Despite the controversy and recent violence, Du Plessis feels that Charlie Hebdo will carry on.
“I do not think that Charlie Hebdo is going away or changing anytime soon,” he said.
And with that, neither will the question of when or if freedom of speech or the press should be restricted.
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