Analysis: Terror in France reignites a national debate on the right to offend

October 30, 2020 at 03:15

He was beheaded after showing cartoons published in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo depicting the Prophet Mohammed to students in his class.
The name Charlie Hebdo will be familiar to anyone who remembers the terror attacks that took place in 2015 , when gunmen forced their way into the magazine's offices in Paris and murdered 12 people.
Charlie Hebdo, a small magazine known for provocative and often offensive images and articles, had published caricatures of the Prophet in 2012.
Both far-right attitudes and France's long tradition of secularism may play into decisions by public figures in French media and in politics to criticize Islam in sometimes sweeping and derisive ways.
"France has a long history of satirical media, and it traditionally punches up as Charlie Hebdo once did.
After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, many French people signaled their support for its unconditional exercise of free speech with the slogan #JeSuisCharlie.
"It's entirely possible to be horrified at the murders that have taken place while also believing what Charlie Hebdo does is offensive," she says.
"The problem for France is when people start pretending that Charlie Hebdo's right to offend is a barometer of national identity.
It basically prohibits a point of view and implies that if you don't support Charlie Hebdo, you are not fully French."
And a Charlie Hebdo front page was projected onto public buildings in Toulouse and Montpellier, which both have substantial Muslim populations, last week.
And this is the seemingly impossible problem France faces once again.
On one hand, freedom of expression -- even the right to offend -- is a cornerstone of French society.
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