By Somi Jun
Background information: On January 7, 2015, two gunmen broke into the building of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, opening fire and killing eight journalists, two policemen, one maintenance staff, and a guest. Witnesses heard the gunmen shouting, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad.” Most believe that the gunmen attacked the magazine because of Charlie’s depictions of the Prophet, often in compromising situations.
Almost 4 million people marched in anti-terrorism rallies the Sunday after the Charlie Hebdo shootings, many chanting “Je suis Charlie”: I am Charlie. The idea behind “Je suis Charlie” is that we, like the 12 murdered journalists, have rights to freedom of speech that violence cannot strip away. But there are darker undertones to the phrase, considering Charlie Hebdo’s graphic depictions of the prophet Muhammad, and the subsequent fear that has washed over France and much of the West — fear of Islam. Charlie journalists theoretically had freedom of speech, so the murder of these 12 journalists was a terrorist travesty. However, what Charlie printed was Islamophobic, a harassment of the faith of almost 2 billion Muslims worldwide. That offense is not erased because of tragedy.
Every major religion has its violent, hateful constituents, and Islam is no exception. However, Islam is unique in that the majority of its followers are judged based on the actions of a few. As a spokeswoman for the“Parti des Indigènes de la République” (PIR), a French political party representing Muslims, stated, “The people who committed this crime have committed a crime not only against Charlie Hebdo, but also against the Muslim community.” This community has been hurt by many, from extremists who misrepresent Islam, to the politicians and leaders who decry Islam as fundamentally flawed, to the general public’s increasing suspicion of the religion. Perhaps the most gratuitous offender in recent days is the treatment of Charlie Hebdo as a heroic publication. “Je suis Charlie,” people say, and the frightening thing is that we are beginning to emulate Charlie’s disrespect of an entire religion, and that we are glorifying it under the banner of free speech.
We are now following in Charlie’s footsteps. There was a 25,000 strong anti-Islam march in Dresden, a politician named Saint-Just commenting on France’s many “potential terrorists,” and a suspicion of Islam that is becoming even more pervasive in America. Our friends, our family members, our teachers, our peers; we have all heard people passing judgment on Islam as a violent religion, and we have heard people hailing Charlie as an icon of free speech. The two are not one and the same, but they are closely related. By dismissing the gross insensitivity of Charlie’s cartoons and treating them as acts of bravery, we are allowing people to believe that Islam is a second-class religion. We are letting people treat Muslims as second-class citizens.