ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Revenge of the East

The best tribute to the dead of Charlie Hebdo is the debate on freedom of speech that has now opened up.

The shocking killing of the cartoonists and staff of the Charlie Hebdo weekly in Paris has turned out to be a watershed event in that it has put the spotlight on the fundamental right to free speech and divided global opinion in ways which are perhaps unprecedented. The resurrection of the debate on the freedom of speech – its ideology and its practice in the world today – is perhaps the best tribute that can be paid to those who were shot for their writings and drawings.

A small publication with dwindling readership in France, Charlie Hebdo was practically unknown outside the country and definitely outside the Francophone world until the shootings. Along with the news of the killings, images of the cartoons, which were a staple of the magazine, started circulating; images that led the terrorists to kill the cartoonists. Most people who had never heard of or read Charlie Hebdo reacted with disbelief at these cartoons as these were, where they pertained to Islam and Muslims, clearly provocative and meant to lampoon. While the condemnations of the killings were forthright, many started asking questions whether these cartoons were appropriate and could be defended. In the global spread of the “I am Charlie” slogan where people identified themselves with the magazine and its right to publish these cartoons, a voice emerged that a condemnation of the killings could not lead to a defence of Charlie Hebdo and its contents. These cartoons were seen to be racist, Islamophobic and sexist.

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