Am I Charlie?

Note from Mr. Cullinane: 

After studying the terror attacks that occurred at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris in early January, I asked my students to respond to a question: Are you Charlie?

Following the terror attacks (these will be described in their reflections), people around the world tweeted, held signs, and spoke out against the terrorists with the slogan “Je suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie.” After considering the publications from the satirical newspaper as well as the reactions people had around the world, I found my class to be split on the issue. I also found their ideas and perspectives to be thoughtful and sophisticated. Here are some samples.


Aadita Saxena (Senior): On 7th January 2015, 12 people from the Charlie Hebdo office (a famous satirical magazine in France) were killed by two gunmen who were linked to Al Qaeda. There had been an ongoing rift between Muslims and the workers of Charlie Hebdo because of the illustrations in their magazine were offensive to the Islamic religion. After this massacre, a slogan came into being “Je Suis Charlie” meaning “I am Charlie.”

“Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists,” 2006. The quote in the speech bubble reads, “It’s hard to be loved by idiots.” The issue features cartoons that caricatured the  prophet Muhammad. Muslim groups sued, but Charlie Hebdo won the case in 2007.
“Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists,” 2006. The quote in the speech bubble reads, “It’s hard to be loved by idiots.” The issue features cartoons that caricatured the prophet Muhammad. Muslim groups sued, but Charlie Hebdo won the case in 2007.

I am Charlie is not exactly what it seems to be; there is a meaning behind it. It somewhat means that I respect the people at Charlie Hebdo, but one of the bigger meanings of it is “I support Free Speech.” The victims of Charlie Hebdo massacre were killed unjustly, but they crossed a line of decency and respect for others. Freedom of speech and Expression of thoughts are two different things. Thoughts are meant for oneself. They are not meant to be spoken out and say something offensive and give the reasoning as freedom of speech. This freedom has its limits. Muslims themselves cannot draw or depict their Prophet in any way, then who gives other people the right to draw their Prophet, and not only draw him, but ridicule him?

Another side of the Paris attacks which hasn’t been seen much attention is that 54 people were arrested because of hate speech. As described by Wikipedia, hate speech is when one threatens or insults another person based on religion, sexuality, gender etc. Now pay attention to the word “insults” in this definition. If people were protesting against being Charlie, isn’t that free speech too? And if this is free speech, then aren’t those cartoons also a form of hate speech, because they were insulting a religion?

I agree with people supporting the fact that people shouldn’t get killed because of their profession or because of their art, and I also agree with Free Speech being an important part of the 21st century. But free speech has its limits. Its limits are that one should not insult another person because of their opinion, their gender, their choices and most importantly not because of their faith.

Almudena Rincon (Senior): On January 7th the Charlie Hebdo offices in the capital of Paris were attacked by terrorists that were afterwards linked to Al Qaeda. Editors and journalists were killed for their publication of offensive cartoons directed towards the Islamic religion. After the attack, with the city of Paris grieving and in lockdown, the terrorists were killed. The two shooters were well-known terrorist brothers; they said they’d die for their religion. Protests followed in Paris, remembering and supporting the murdered journalists with “Je Suis Charlie” signs, stating that people believe in and support freedom of speech. Linked to this was another attack in Paris, the taking of hostages in a Jewish shop.

While the killing of the journalists has been an atrocious tragedy, I have to say that I am not Charlie Hebdo. I believe in freedom of speech and think is a very important human right, but freedom of speech should go hand in hand with respect. As we’re all humans, we all deserve to be treated with dignity and show respect for one another. That dignity and respect is shattered when people insult another’s opinions. The Charlie Hebdo journalists are all an example of different opinions that went to an extreme, ridiculing different beliefs and cultures.  Therefore, they weren’t taking in consideration other people’s beliefs. As David Brooks wrote in the NY Times, “People who want to be heard attentively have to earn it through their conduct.” We can’t start blurting out what we think of others without paying attention to the person next to us. If everyone did that, society would be a mess. To prevent this mess, we have to use freedom of speech in an inoffensive way, like Mr. Brooks said, “Most of us try to show a modicum of respect for people of different creeds and faiths.”

The cover of Charlie Hebdo after the terror attacks. Mohammed holds a sign reading
The cover of Charlie Hebdo after the terror attacks. Mohammed holds a sign reading “I am Charlie” and the words “All is forgiven” hang over his head.

The Charlie Hebdo journalists crossed a line that they can’t, unfortunately, cross back again. By publishing their cartoons, they have shown society that it’s fine to offend people if you’re doing it freely. I don’t agree, and I’m not the only one. There have been numerous protests against this in the Islamic countries, in which the protestors carry the signs “I am Muslim” to state that they are going to keep following their religion and beliefs, and no mocking cartoon is going to stamp on their faith.

Freedom of speech is a way of saying we are all important, equal and should be heard. Charlie Hebdo magazine workers did just that and they were killed for it. Freedom of speech should have its limits, but the way it’s treated should have them too. No one deserves to die for proclaiming their opinion, and fear shouldn’t blow away the rights of humans who state what they need to state, like Peggy Noonan says in The Wall Street Journal, “The West must see that its values are not compromised by the fears the murders seek to spread. “ They need to state it, but without the necessity of offending others.

Mohammed Khan (Senior): Many people don’t know how much the Muslim community care about their prophet.  Muslims themselves don’t have any picture of Muhammad (PBUH).  Not only did Charlie Hebdo show Muslims’ prophet, they showed it in a very disrespectful way.  Moreover, some people say they can draw what they want and do what they want. It’s Freedom of Speech and Expression.  However, you really can’t do what you. For example, can you go bully anyone you want? No you can’t because there is a limit to freedom of Speech and Expression.  When a majority of people are affected then you cannot put the banner under “Freedom of Speech and Expression”.  Furthermore, just imagine the person you love the most in your life is being disrespected by many people. You would be really angry and mad at those people.  If you ask Muslims who you love the most, the majority of them would say Muhammad (PBUH).  Also, some extremist who called themselves Muslims take the text (Quran) in a wrong way and cause disaster.  There are people in the world who blame the religion instead of these extremists. You cannot blame Islam for what these uneducated extremists have done. Every religion teaches peace and tranquility. Thus, the victims of Charlie Hebdo were killed wrongly, but they went too far and are not heroes.

Malyja Luciano (Sophomore): It’s all about having respect for one another. Just because you find someone ugly doesn’t mean you should let it be known to the world simply because you have freedom of speech. Saying and doing those type of things is ignorant. Freedom of speech is a human right, but only to a certain extent. People shouldn’t be blunt and insult religion, sexuality, or appearance. It’s just rude. People say Charlie Hebdo was just expressing freedom of speech in its own way by insulting religious groups. So why can’t we say the two extremist were expressing freedom of speech? I’m not justifying the fact that they killed those people, but some may interpret their actions also as “freedom of speech.”

Andres Canseco (Sophomore): Religions and beliefs among humans has always been a very delicate subject, something that has unwritten rules behind it. Regardless of what someone believes, there must be this respect towards all other beliefs, no matter how much it may contrast one’s own belief. The Charlie Hebdo magazine, despite being a satirical newspaper, did not follow this rule. Satirists do serve their useful purpose of exposing the flaws of fundamentalists, but the newspaper at hand did not “try to show a modem of respect for people of different creeds and faiths.” They very much blatantly insulted through cartoons that truly weren’t “witty or sly,” but rather crude and even primitive.

Derenice Moton (Sophomore): If you continue to do things a group of people don’t like it means you don’t respect them. They do have a right to say what they want, but their work is not meaningful. In an article by David Brooks he said,”When you are 13, it seems daring and provocative…to ridicule others people’s religious beliefs.” The things that Charlie Hebdo has on its covers is not funny. It may have been funny to laugh at someone’s religion when we were young, but it’s really immature to do it at this age.

Some say that Charlie Hebdo victims were martyrs. This is false. They did utilize their right to free speech, but it was to make fun of what someone believes in. They have been doing this for long enough. Just because you have a right to say anything doesn’t mean you have to exercise that right by saying hateful things. As we all learned when we were young, if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.

Kamaya Spearman (Sophomore): American are saying they are Charlie Hebdo, when in actuality, someone in America could never publish something like this without it being labeled a hate crime.


 Kiana Eke (Junior): One of our most important rights given to us, protected by the Constitution, is freedom of speech. We have a right to say what we feel and express ourselves accordingly, which is exactly what the writers of Charlie Hebdo were doing. It is not a crime to create a controversial cartoon when we see even worse on television and the Internet. The way free speech is handled in the West is much different from other areas of the globe. In one instance in the 1990’s a controversial painting “The Holy Virgin Mary” which is an image of a Black Virgin Mary surrounded by what at first glance are butterflies, but when a closer look is taken are actually images of female genitalia. This painting caused a lot of anger with Catholics and even the Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani who thought the painting was disgusting and put the virgin Mary in a negative light. But no one even dreamed of hurting the artist. The museum sued the mayor for withholding funds, and the museum won and that was that. As Peggy Noonan said in the Wall Street Journal, “The point is people considered and debated. They didn’t pick up a gun.” This example illustrates that there are different ways the Muslims could have tried to resolve this issue that did not include them killing the writers. This is why I believe that I am Charlie.

People around the world joined in solidarity to state
People around the world joined in solidarity to state “I am Charlie” and “We are not afraid.”

Jenna Aikens (Sophomore): Charlie Hebdo expressed humor through broad and vulgar comics, but it was their opinion. That is why it is called free speech; we have a right to an opinion and to state it however we want.

Charlie Hebdo does these comics to see how far they can push the button. They found out how far from the massacre, but they should keep going. Technically you can never go too far with freedom of speech because it’s reflective of what people think; it is a right, and as people have the right to say it, others have the right to listen or to totally cut it out.

Some people might say that the journalists crossed a line because they were offensive. That “Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that, that newspaper specializes in,” but really we do, we might not say it out loud but we do—that is why it is called freedom of speech. We have the ability to say things that cross the line, but we also have the ability to not listen and not let it affect us. So, Charlie Hebdo, keep doing what you’re doing and don’t let anything stop you!

Temitope Odedoyin (Senior): We must not negotiate with terrorists, instead, as Peggy Noonan said in her piece in the Wall Street Journal,  “we must see to it that our values are not compromised by the fears that the murderers seek to spread.”

I am totally Charlie Hebdo. Terroroism is becoming an issue that is not only affecting  America but France, Nigeria, England and elsewhere.  All terrorist acts are based on the fact that they disagree with others concepts , beliefs or laws. Terrorists always want the world to agree with their point of view and they try to use fear to make people conform to their beliefs. This is a juvenille and shallow-minded way of thinking. Terrorists should be aware that one has the right to express oneself however one pleases, but one does not have the right to kill. Even in the Quran, killing is a sin.

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