Charlie Hebdo and after

Are there limits to freedom of expression?

May 8, 2015

On January 7, 2015, two gunmen claiming to act for Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and to be avenging the prophet Mohammed, forced their way into the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. They shot dead 12 people: eight members of the magazine's staff, a maintenance worker, a visitor and two policeman.  Twelve people were wounded. Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly with a complete lack of respect for institutions, political and religious, had published cartoons of the prophet.

The Charlie Hebdo journalists paid a high price for defending freedom of expression. The terrorist event triggered massive public reaction, not only in France, and an intense debate on freedom of speech. Should the right to freedom of expression be defended, even when that right is used to express views that we may find disturbing, shocking or offensive? Is the best way to deal with possible offensive material to censure it or to challenge it in open debate and peaceful protest? Should there be a law against blasphemy again? Pope Francis has said that religions have a dignity that we must respect, so should religion be off limits in satire? Some governments are blocking or banning cartoons on religious themes or publications offensive to religion. Terrorists attacks have also led some governments to seek greater monitoring of electronic surveillance in the interests of national security. And they call on internet service providers to identify and remove content “that aims to incite hatred and terror”.