#JeSuisCharlie and #JeSuisAhmed: Tensions and Ties

Sabina Unni and Elizabeth Muratore

On Jan. 7, a terrorist attack at the Paris offices of satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo left twelve dead, eleven wounded, and an entire nation heartbroken and furious.  These attacks continued the next day, when two of the attackers led Paris police on a chase, resulting in the death of one Paris policewoman.  The attacks culminated with the capture of a Kosher supermarket on Jan. 9, in which four hostages were killed.  In total, seventeen people have died, but the outcry regarding this issue is on a scale similar to that of the 9/11 attacks.  Al-Qaida has stated that the attacks were in response to the magazine’s frequent satirizing of the prophet Muhammad and were carried out to “avenge [his] honor.”

“Some of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons were unnecessarily offensive, but they still have the absolute right to publish them,” said senior Josh Curtis.  “In the wise words of Voltaire, ‘I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.’”

Neither the French nor the rest of the world has kept quiet in the wake of these attacks. Once news of the tragedy had leaked online, the hashtag “Je suis Charlie” began circulating on social media. Many celebrities, including George Clooney and Jared Leto, have publicly used this phrase to communicate that they, and all who use it, stand together as one in support of those affected by the attacks.

French officials have also spoken out, saying that they will not let these attacks affect their nation’s pride or its strength.  A rally took place throughout the streets of Paris on Jan. 11  that attracted over 1 million protestors.

Those attending the rally also included over forty world leaders, including U.S. ambassador to France Jane Hartley and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  One report estimated that the number of participants in the rally was as high as 3.7 million.

“Our entire country will rise up toward something better,” said French president Francois Hollande at the march.

Despite Hollande’s statement, there have been increased religious and racial tensions throughout France.  Mosques in two French towns were fired upon, three blank grenades were thrown at a mosque in Le Mans, shots were fired at a mosque in Port-la-nouvelle, there was an explosion near a kebab shop in a mosque, and Mohamed El Makouli was shot by a man screaming insults to Islam.

In response to the terrorists and “Je suis Charlie,” many French Muslims, and Muslims around the world, have begun using the hashtag “Je suis Ahmed,” in honor of a Muslim police officer, Ahmed Merabet, who was killed in the attacks and uttered these as his last words. Groups of French Muslims have worn placards bearing the phrase, “L’Islam est contre le terrorisme,” which translates to, “Islam is against terrorism.”

#JeSuisAhmed has become a subject of controversy. “Je suis Ahmed ignores the real victims here,” said junior Andrew Gruber.

Others affirm its intended purpose. “#JeSuisAhmed is inspiring because it shows that the mere assumption that a certain race has certain beliefs was disproved by this individual,” said sophomore Devon Singh.

This issue is particularly important to student journalists who are witnessing present tensions.  Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are some of the cornerstones of honest journalism.  On the other hand, baseless offensiveness is irresponsible and unethical journalism.

“Freedom of speech is an unalienable right, but it comes with the responsibility of treating all citizens fairly,” said senior Sarah Sigman.  “For example, in France it is illegal for Muslim women to wear burqas or niqabs in public.  So, the question is: freedom of speech for who?”

We have to underscore the importance of free speech and the ability to speak freely.  But we also have to understand that journalists have a moral responsibility to the people whom they are writing about and the people they are writing for.