Free speech is louder than bombs, no matter who tries to suppress it
By Jorge Belon, Managing Editor
Last Sunday another chapter in the history of Paris was written … with giant pencils.
The people of France responded to recent terrorist attacks by coming together and drowning out the chaos that was left behind with the simple chant of “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”). The streets that once rang with “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” (“Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood”) during the French Revolution saw more than 3.5 million join the “Unity March.” There were more people on the streets than on Aug. 25, 1944, when France was liberated from the Nazis, according to the BBC.
No heads rolled – in fact, among 44 world leaders walking for freedom, even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set their differences aside.
Multiple nations’ flags waved in the air as the city took its first breath since the attacks. There were tears and a sense of harmony among the people. Instead of using force to convey their point, they wielded a weapon far more powerful: pencils. Many toted giant writing implements, a new symbol of freedom, to show solidarity with the cartoonists murdered by violent extremists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. And their messages? “We are not afraid” and “Je suis Charlie.”
This movement of millions of fearless people through the streets of Paris captured the eyes of the world. In response, multiple countries began to peacefully protest as well. The many borders that separate the 196 nations faded away, and for that moment the lyrics of John Lennon’s “Imagine” became a reality.
The survivors of the attack on Charlie Hebdo also responded to the terrorists, as only they could.
Their new issue,”Survivor,” was presented to the world last Wednesday. The satirical magazine’s first issue since the massacre sports on its a cover an illustration of the Prophet Muhammad weeping and holding a sign saying, “Je suis Charlie,” with the words, “Tout est pardonné” (“All is forgiven”) atop the page.
What better way to retaliate against people who would deny those who disagree with them their freedom of speech – so much so that they would murder cartoonists for representing their prophet in pen and ink? The world’s response to the new issue was defiant. Charlie Hebdo usually prints 60,000 copies; “Survivor’s” initial print run was 3 million, later raised to 5 million globally as it sold out all over the world.
For the cowardly sociopaths who perpetrated these attacks, it must be as if they tried to plug a dike with a bullet – and were washed away by the resulting pressure.
However, the fight for freedom of speech is never-ending, and on unexpected fronts. In the wake of the attacks, controversial French comedian Dieudonné was arrested for expressing his anti-Semitic response to the events on his Facebook account.
With the words, “Je suis Charlie Coulibaly” (“I am Charlie Coulibaly”), he praised the gunman who killed four hostages at a Jewish deli. What he said may be disturbing and in bad taste, but he only expressed his views verbally. He did not attack anyone physically, yet he was arrested for his beliefs.
Those actions from the French government tainted the beautiful image of the peaceful march in Paris. Freedom of speech is not just for popular opinions, but for all points of view, no matter how disgusting. Because, as the poem says, “Listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.”
After all, despite the insane actions of a few who would silence free voices, it’s the entire human race that contributes to what is written in the pages of history.