A Silver Lining for Charlie Hebdo

It seems almost disingenuous to call anything that arose from the Charlie Hebdo attack and its ripple effects a "silver lining." What good could come out of a vicious assault on journalists that ultimately left more than a dozen dead and at least four injured? But in the past few days, I think we all have seen something that could in at least some small measure be considered "good," and certainly heartwarming: the collective response to the assault by the global community. As it most often does in response to this type of tragic event, the technologically-interconnected world has united to collectively mourn and showcase a robust stand against terror and a remarkable defense of free speech.

And it has indeed been global. The #jesuischarlie hashtag has trended worldwide, from the U.S., to Europe, to Africa, Asia, and countries in the Middle East including Turkey, Jordan, Syria, and the UAE. That's right-in the heart of the Muslim world you have thousands, if not millions of Muslims expressing solidarity with a publication that has regularly in the past ridiculed their religion with images of Muhammad-these include many imams, sheiks, and other religious leaders. They understand that free speech and expression, as long as it directly hurts no one, never warrants any type of violence -- despite what many believe, many Muslims can indeed "take a joke," or at least tolerate it. As devout followers of their faith, they do not disregard that last point, but rather focus primarily on condemning this barbaric attack and make it clear that not a single aspect of it is drawn from Islamic tenets. They also have admirably highlighted how a devout member of their own faith was one of the policeman defending against the attackers-Ahmed Merabet, who was brutally murdered by the gunmen. Muslims and non-muslims alike have remembered him with the #jesuisAhmed hashtag. You can see clearly here at least one area where the attackers failed -- instead of dividing different groups of people, they indirectly united them in their condemnation of the horrific assault.

I've seen some on social media who have criticized Charlie Hebdo for its Islamophobic content in the past and want to make clear that they do not want people to stand in solidarity with the magazine itself but rather with the individual journalists who were killed and victimized. While that is at least somewhat understandable, these commentators are missing a crucial point -- in this instance, where the terrorists committed the most unacceptable and wanton response to the magazine's content, criticizing the magazine at this point undermines a commitment to the imperative defense of free speech and expression (of course, this is only my humble opinion-you could argue that their free and open criticism is a self-manifestation of that commitment).

Critics of #jesuischarlie say that they do not want people to associate with a publication that has displayed content insulting to Muslims. However, this line of argument would undermine the whole point of the social media campaign -- the right to free speech and expression should be defended, even when what is being expressed is unsavory. You don't have to agree with it at all -- in fact in a free and liberal society you're encouraged to disagree with and criticize it, by virtue of your own free speech! The point of the hashtag that these commentators miss is that the expression of solidarity is not for the magazine's specific content, but its right to publish that content and deal civilly with whatever acceptable response it may incur. Again, those who sought to divide in response to a mere offensive cartoon have only prompted people of various backgrounds to defend the right of the very magazine that printed the illustration to do so.

Let me be clear -- I am in no way approving the Islamophobic and other inflammatory content of Charlie Hebdo, or indeed any other publication. There is little doubt that this type of media could fan the already present, though not necessarily prevalent, Islamophobia in France. If people didn't criticize it there would be something amiss in civilized society. By virtue of living in a free and liberal society, we can, and are encouraged to criticize such content. But I, alongside millions of others, am still defending the magazine's right to publish those cartoons. That united defense of free speech is a beautiful thing, and should be admired. The fact that millions have expressed their support of Charlie Hedbo in this tragedy is remarkable. While we grieve for the journalists who were doing no more than poking fun, let's continue to stay united.