A panel of professors, public officials and graduate students spoke at an event titled Charlie Hebdo: Defending Freedom of Speech and Fighting Islamophobia in France Thursday evening in Buchanan Hall to discuss the ramifications of the terrorist attacks against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris in early January.
Sponsored by the French and Italian Department and the Arab Student Group on campus, the event included discussion on the social consequences of freedom of speech, the importance of interfaith dialogue and the political relationship between the West and the Greater Middle East. About 150 students, faculty and campus community members attended, with several audience members participating in a Q&A session later in the evening that resulted in controversial debate.
French Council General of Los Angeles Axel Cruau led a brief moment of silence to commemorate the 12 people killed in the Charlie Hebdo shootings after speaking of the “heroism” displayed during follow up attacks on a Jewish supermarket days later.
“We also saw in those moments of darkness, heroism, especially in the Kosher market,” Cruau said, “One of the employees, his name is Lassana Bathily, he is Muslim. He came from Mali. He saved hostages.”
We may agree or disagree with its editorial policies, but just please remember, silence is the end of democracy. – Visiting Assistant Professor of French Studies Aude Jehan
Cruau said the millions of French people who gathered in unity rallies across the country “did the right thing” by protesting peacefully.
“All over France, almost 4 million people gave the best answer possible to those terrorist attacks — they stood up and marched,” Cruau said. “They stood up and marched in a show of dignity, of brotherhood, to proclaim their commitment to freedom and to say a resolute ‘no’ to terrorism, to intolerance, to anti-Semitism, to racism.”
Global studies professor Jan Nederveen Pieterse said geopolitical conflict was the catalyst for the events that unfolded at Charlie Hebdo.
“Abu Grahib, Fallujah and Israel’s wars in Gaza, mentioned as motivation by the attackers in Paris, were cruel and extreme,” Pieterse said, “and extremists in the region and outside the region have responded in extreme ways, and both are unpardonable.”
During the event, a slide show of some of Charlie Hebdo’s most controversial cartoons was shown, including one image showing a Nazi SS officer kissing a Hasidic Jew. Visiting Assistant Professor of French Studies Aude Jehan said the cartoon was made to criticize homophobic Nazi ideology and not to defame Jews or homosexuals.
“It’s not a show of disrespect, but rather it shows a way to resist,” Jehan said. “Never did the publication ever call for any sort of violence.”
Jehan said even if people are opposed to the content published in Charlie Hebdo, it is freedom of speech should be protected.
“We may agree or disagree with its editorial policies, but just please remember, silence is the end of democracy,” Jehan said.
Political Science graduate student Shyam Sriram said despite finding the caricatures of the prophet Mohammed “to be a form of Islamophobia,” that he, “as a Muslim,” was not offended because the Muslim community has far more significant issues to confront regarding human rights violations worldwide.
“Instead of focusing so much on the cartoons, why don’t we start treating women with respect and dignity, speaking out on child marriage, female circumcision, honor killings and human trafficking?” Sriram said. “How about having an honest conversation about depression, suicide, mental health and substance abuse?”
Sriram said he does not feel that Muslims need to be “constantly apologetic” for the actions of extremists and that the perpetrators of the attacks in Paris are not representative of the Muslim community
“I am proud to be Muslim … and I am ashamed that anyone would pretend to be Muslim and then carry out something so heinous in the name of Allah,” Sriram said.
Professor of Religious Studies Kathleen Moore said the recent media depiction of a “Clash of Civilizations” has had deep ramifications for intercultural relations between the West and the Middle East.
“Often, unfortunately, when terrorist attacks like Charlie Hebdo occur, the same tired explanations are offered alongside a portrait of Islam and irrational radical Muslim rage contrasted with a rational, balanced pluralist and democratic West,” Moore said.
Third-year political science major Jessica Baker said the diversity of the event’s panel allowed for dynamic and constructive discourse on issues surrounding the Charlie Hebdo incident in Paris.
“Each different panelist teaches or has a different background and had a completely different perspective or something from history to introduce,” Baker said, “so I think if this school is going to open a dialogue about this, this is the best way to start it.”
Third-year political science major Primitivo Gonzalez said he it was refreshing to listen to people speak that have a personal connection to the Charlie Hebdo events.
“I’m really glad that we have the French Department faculty members here to give their piece on what they believe about Charlie Hebdo because we’re kind of stuck using American outlets, or BBC,” Gonzaez said. “It’s good to hear a human being that we can possibly relate to, from the local level.”
Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are universal values, and they should be the norm everywhere. As a human being and citizen I hope you will agree with that. – French Council General of Los Angeles Axel Cruau
President of the Arab Student Group Nada Elshaari said it was exciting to see cooperation between two separate campus entities to facilitate a discussion on a current event.
“Different student organization on campus are really acclimated to activism, so you get a lot of discussions like this all the time,” Elshaari said. “When an event like this roles around, where a student org and an academic department can work together, it’s just a good thing.”
In a separate interview, Cruau said people across the globe should unite to protect freedom of speech in the wake of the attacks such as the incident at Charlie Hebdo.
“We really hope freedom of the press will be defended worldwide, and that people will live up to their commitment,” Cruau said. “Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are universal values, and they should be the norm everywhere. As a human being and citizen I hope you will agree with that.”