Hold strong on free speech

Lessons from the slayings of journalists in Paris

The editorial staff at France’s Charlie Hebdo made a bold move this week by putting a depiction of the Prophet Muhammad on its cover, along with the headline “Tout est pardonné,” which translates to “all is forgiven.” That decision speaks to the satirical newspaper’s commitment to free speech following an ambush by gun-wielding religious extremists at its offices last week that left 12 people dead.

Following that brutal attack, the refrain Je suis Charlie—or “I am Charlie”—has been adopted throughout the West. At the same time, detractors of the newspaper’s decision to again depict the religious icon say the image goes too far and will only ignite more violence.

But how can they reconcile those views when one of the hallmarks of a civilized society is freedom of expression? What would it signal to the religious extremists—and to the rest of the world, for that matter—to censor something that offends them? Indeed, the West must hold strong to this fundamental right of democracy, even when what’s being depicted is distasteful or downright vulgar.

We were heartened to see the solidarity among so many world leaders following the tragedy in Paris and were disappointed that our nation’s leader was absent from a unity march last weekend in the City of Light.

We applaud the surviving Charlie Hebdo journalists’ decision to run the new cover. Those who attack the right to free speech and freedom of the press are on the wrong side of history. Fortunately, journalists are a tough lot with the courage of conviction to weather such ignorance, even when that means putting themselves in danger.