Opinion: Je suis Charlie, and the state of freedom
Free Press General Manager
Last week was a difficult week for all of us.
With the violent murders of 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo offices — a satirical newspaper known for its mocking critiques of world leaders and religions, headquartered in Paris, France — followed by several killings around Paris, we all felt a pang of remorse and ultimately anger at those who committed this atrocity.
Charlie Hebdo built its reputation on mocking others. They are designed to spark conversation through the use of humor. In the past they have depicted religious figures in ways that are designed to critique the status quo. They drew anger with the depiction of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, which to Muslims is seen as blasphemy. They also made fun of Catholicism and other religions, governments and world leaders To say they are irreverent would be an understatement. Charlie Hebdo made people angry, but they also made people laugh, and more importantly they triggered discussion about key issues in society.
Satire fills a niche in our culture. We tend to take things too seriously, sometimes so much so that we can’t see beyond the walls of political correctness that we have created. American satire takes the form of the Onion, the Daily Show, and the recently ended Colbert Report to name a few. Popular American satire tends to be slightly less antagonistic, but the game is the same. By making fun of key issues we are able to trigger discussion and open the door for thought.
As journalists and as a newspaper, the murders of fellow journalists hit home for the Free Press and for all of those in the journalism community. It was a reminder for us that our words do matter, and they do have an impact on our readers. We are lucky enough to be in the United States, protected by the First Amendment, an effective police force, and a strong military.
Terrorism is a daily fear for many. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 61 journalists were killed in 2014, down from 70 in 2013 — and unfortunately 2015 is off to bad start. With beheadings and violence, it was a hard year to be in the media. However, it is important to keep focused on the greater issue: many regions of our world are at war. Let’s not forget that thousands of civilians were killed in 2014 — men, women and children — whose lives were taken because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I firmly believe in the freedom of religion, speech and of the press. I guess that is one of the great things about growing up in America. We are lucky. We write columns like this one that outline our opinion and our beliefs with a reasonable expectation of safety. We can believe in what we want and we can walk our streets without constant fear that the next trash bin down the road might contain an explosive.
It is very easy when faced with acts of barbarism to blame the actions of a few on an entire group of people. It is one of the easiest traps to fall into, and honestly it is exactly the response that terrorist organizations want to incite. Just because you share a religion does not mean you share hatred. I have met many people with many different religious backgrounds, and they tend to have more in common than most realize.
Our state of freedom is strong, as long as we don’t get too carried away with pointing fingers and blaming others. Instead, let’s use this moment to come together as one to fight against the tyranny of terror.
Ben Rogers is general manager of the Free Press. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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