The Charlie Hebdo massacre is an attack on freedom of expression

Wednesday is normally a big day for the creators at Charlie Hebdo. It’s usually print day; the day when the French satirical weekly sends out a new edition. Sadly, today was a Wednesday like no other as gunmen armed with a Kalashnikov and a rocket launcher entered the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo and opened fire. The shooting, labeled by French President Francois Hollande as a terrorist attack, has left at least 12 dead and several in critical condition (as of this writing, the terrorists have not been apprehended).

The creators of Charlie Hebdo have a history of satirizing all groups (more on the history of Charlie Hebdo here), and has made no exception for Islam. In the name of satire, everyone and everything was fair game. The creators knew that satirizing Islam could touch off a firestorm of controversy, as they found in 2006, when they reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that had originally appeared in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten. Many in the Muslim world were furious and condemned what they perceived as “attack on Islam”. The Charlie Hebdo staff were also aware of the dangers in pointing their satirical barbs at Islam. In 2011, after publishing a cartoon of Mohammed titled “Charia Hebdo”, their office was fire-bombed. In spite of this attack (as well as being taken to court under anti-racism laws) the staff at Charlie Hebdo refused to back down from satirizing Mohammed or Islam.

And Islamic extremists don’t like that.

They don’t like it so much that they felt the need to murder 12 people. All because they poked fun at religion. As seen in the video below, the gunmen can be heard shouting “Allahu akbar” and according to police they exclaimed “we have avenged the prophet!”

Make no mistake. This attack was not about freedom of religion. It was not about being offended at a cartoon (though it looks that way on the surface). This attack was an attack on freedom of expression. On freedom of press. On the right of every human being to express the opinions of their choice without interference…to seek and receive information and ideas from any media…to impart that information and those ideas to others. This is what the Charlie Hebdo terrorists wanted to squelch. They want Islam placed on a pedestal above criticism or mockery. They want everyone to revere and show proper respect and deference to their religion. If you don’t do so of your own volition? They’ll put a gun to your head and force you. That’s religious totalitarianism at work. That’s the antithesis of freedom of expression.

Some might argue that the Charlie Hebdo creators brought this on themselves. That this tragedy is somehow their fault. That they brought this upon themselves:

Gérald Kierzec, 40, a casualty doctor on duty at Hôtel Dieu this morning was among the first on the scene at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and described the “carnage” and “war scene” that met him.

He told The Telegraph’s Henry Samuel:

We were near Charlie Hebdo on a call when I heard ‘plan red’ on the emergency service radio. We rushed to the scene as this is the signal for an incident with lots of victims.

I could see this was a military-style attack. There was a first body lying in the lobby. Then I took the stairs which were covered in blood. When I got to the second floor, there were bodies lying one on top of another.

It was carnage with war wounds. There was blood everywhere. These were Kalashnikov injuries with huge bullets that create huge trauma in the victims’ faces and chests. They literally explode. As a civilian doctor who deals with car accidents and the like, I have never seen anything like it in my career, so many wounded by gunfire. This was clearly a terror strike.

I’m not one of those people. Such a response would be victim-blaming. The perpetrators of this massacre-the rocket launcher armed masked men-are the ones responsible for the violent murders. No one else.

Among those slain in the attacks are Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb, Jean Cabu, Georges Wolinski, and Bernard Verlhac, known as Tignous-all well-known French cartoonists. Deputy editor of the magazine, Bernard Maris, was among those slain. Several other staff members are reported to have been killed as well, though their names are not currently known. Also among the dead are two police officers, one of whom was brutally executed by one of the gunmen with a shot to the head.

Today’s violent intimidation tactics have sparked worldwide outrage (though in what will come as no surprise to anyone, Islamic extremists have applauded the attacks). Among those who have expressed sympathy with France, and condemnation of the attacks are several world leaders:

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman offered his condolences to the French people and government and said that Israel identified with the pain now being felt in France. Lieberman added that it was imperative not to give into terrorists and let them threaten the free world. The West must stand united and determined to fight this danger, he said.

U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the deadly shooting, calling it a terrorist attack against its ally, France. “We are in touch with French officials and I have directed my administration to provide any assistance needed to help bring these terrorists to justice,” Obama said in a statement.

British Prime Minister David Cameron described the attack as “sickening” and said Britain stood with France in the fight against terror.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also condemned the shooting, saying it was “not only an attack on French citizens, but on freedoms of press and speech.”

UN chief Ban Ki-moon voiced outrage at the “horrendous, unjustifiable and cold-blooded crime.”

The Vatican condemned the attack as “a double act of violence, abominable because it is both an attack against people as well as against freedom of the press,” said the Vatican’s deputy spokesman, Father Ciro Benedettini. He added that Pope Francis would likely issue a personal condemnation later on Wednesday by sending a message to the archbishop of Paris.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also came out against the attack, saying that he “strongly condemned and deplored the heinous crime that is in contradiction of religion and morality,” in a telegram sent to Hollande, Palestinian news agency Maan reported.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, also condemned Wednesday’s shooting attack. “…The kingdom therefore strongly condemns and denounces this cowardly terrorist act that is rejected by true Islamic religion as well as the rest of the religions and beliefs,” the Saudi state news agency SPA said, citing an official source.

Egypt’s leading Islamic authority, Al-Azhar, also condemned the attack, which killed at least 12 people including two police officers, the worst militant attack on French soil for decades.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon voiced outrage at the “horrendous, unjustifiable and cold-blooded crime.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the attack as a “cynical crime.”

“The fight against terrorism can only be effective in the form of a deepened international strategic partnership,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

the Media Institute (a Washington D.C.-based organization that counts among its trustees representatives from major media companies such as the Walt Disney Co., CBS, and 21st Century Fox):

“We are shocked and outraged by this mass murder, and we join with media organizations around the world in condemning this politically motivated attack,” the organization’s president, Patrick Maines, said in a statement.  “Once again journalists have given their lives for the cause of free speech and free press. Our sympathy goes out to the families of these victims. As threats, acts of intimidation and outright violence against the press continue to increase, we trust that journalists, backed by their news organizations, will stand strong as the torchbearers of freedom around the globe.”

moderate Muslims who refuse to allow these terrorists to be the face of Islam:

Hours after two policemen and 10 others were killed Wednesday in a shooting at the Paris offices of French satirical news magazine Charlie Hebdo — an apparent attack by Islamic militants — moderate Muslims have taken to Twitter to condemn the killings and deny any association between their faith and that of Islamic extremists.

“All day today, I’ve seen tweets and press releases from Muslim leaders from across the world, and Muslim religious institutions, condemning the Charlie Hebdo attacks. They’re not really obliged to, in my opinion,” H.A. Hellyer, a nonresident fellow with the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, told International Business Times in an email. “We haven’t seen the calls for Buddhists worldwide, for example, to condemn radical Buddhists in Myanmar.”

And when prominent Muslims do make public statements, he contended, their voices are rarely heard.

“Each time a terrorist atrocity takes place, the condemnations of Muslim mainstream figures are barely registered,” Hellyer said, pointing to recent statements by the Mufti Emeritus of Bosnia, French Muslim leaders, the Azhar University and Muslim public intellectuals who have condemned the attacks.

“And yet, we’re still doing stories about ‘Are moderate Muslims speaking out?’” Hellyer said.

Some moderate Muslims reacting on Twitter are using the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie – which translates to “I am Charlie” —  to condemn the attack. Some are outraged over what they see as an assault on free speech; others are concerned Muslims will be linked to an attack committed by extremists and become the target of discrimination.

and cartoonists from across the world:

That last image sums up my feelings too. I am Charlie Hebdo. So is anyone who values freedom of expression and freedom of the press for all.

The Charlie Hebdo massacre is an attack on freedom of expression