France is starting to reflect on the dramatic decline in its freedom of expression.
“My unfortunate client will be freedom….” — Richard Malka, attorney for Charlie Hebdo, Le Point, August 13, 2020.
Western democracies have paid dearly for the right to freedom of expression and, if not protected and exercised, it can disappear overnight.
“If our colleagues in the public debate do not share part of the risk, then the barbarians have won”. — Elisabeth Badinter, French philosopher; the documentary “Je suis Charlie”, September 9, 2015.
Yesterday, one day before the opening of the trial for 14 defendants accused of involvement in a string of terrorist attacks in France, which included the murders of their fellow journalists and cartoonists on January 7, 2015 at their Paris office, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished the “Mohammed Cartoons” under the title “Tout ça pour ça” (“All of that for this”). “We will never give up”, they said.
The defendants in the trial, some in absentia, “face a variety of charges related to helping perpetrators carry out attacks that killed 17 people over three days in January 2015.” In addition to the 12 victims in and around the office of Charlie Hebdo, a police officer was murdered in the street and four people were murdered in a kosher supermarket.
François Molins, then public prosecutor of Paris, recalled his arrival at the Charlie Hebdo office. He found “the smell of blood and gunpowder. In the newsroom, it is carnage. It is more than a crime scene, it is a war scene, with a frightening tangle of bodies”.
Charlie Hebdo‘s editor, known as Riss, has detailed the heavy security surrounding the weekly since the terror attack. Charlie Hebdo is now subsidizing part of its own protection, spending 1.5 million euros per year. “When you take 3 euros out of your pocket to buy a copy of Charlie Hebdo, 1.30 euros goes to the distributor and with the remaining 1.70 euros the magazine pays the employees, the rent, the service providers, as well as its security”, he said. After paying an even greater price in 2015 in terms of blood, and paying an exorbitant price in terms of security, it would have been understandable for Charlie Hebdo‘s editors to have stopped using their freedom of speech to subject Islam to criticism. That is not what they chose to do.
“We have often been asked to publish other cartoons of Mohammed”, they wrote.
“We have always refused to do it, not because it is forbidden — the law allows it — but because we needed a good reason to do it, a reason that made sense and that would bring something to the debate”.
The last time Charlie Hebdo had run a cartoon of Mohammed was five years ago, on the cover of the issue just after the massacre, which sold eight million copies. It showed the prophet of Islam accompanied by the title “All is forgiven“.
“We must continue to portray Muhammad; not to do that means there is no more Charlie“, said Patrick Pelloux, a cartoonist who has since left the magazine. Is Charlie still Charlie, many wondered after the massacre? Today, yes — but France is starting to reflect on the dramatic decline in its freedom of expression.
Philippe Lançon, who was seriously injured in the 2015 attack by the Kouachi brothers, was still recovering when he attended a party, where he met the author Michel Houellebecq. The two had a brief conversation; Houellebecq concluded it by quoting the gospel of Matthew: “… the violent take it by force”.
“Charlie Hebdo, freedom or death”, Le Figaro recently wrote in a headline. At first [ … ]