Attacks raise debate on free speech
By Anthony Plescia
Paris was rattled on Jan. 7 when two gunmen opened fire on the French satirical magazine publisher known as Charlie Hebdo. They carried out their massacre because the issuer had a history of publications mocking the Prophet Muhammad. A total of 12 people were murdered at the magazine’s office.
Because of the circumstances surrounding the violence at the Charlie Hebdo office, the debate about the limits of free speech has been reignited across the globe. One of the most prominent voices on the matter was Pope Francis, who reminded the world that even though freedom of speech and faith are fundamental human rights, insulting and provoking other faiths cannot be tolerated. The pontiff also stated violence in response to such speech is not the answer either.
On Jan. 11, a chain of 1.5 million people marched down the streets of Paris holding signs saying “Je Suis Charlie,” French for “I am Charlie.” This was done to demonstrate advocacy for freedom of expression. More than 40 world leaders attended the rally as well, including the Israeli Prime Minister and leaders from NATO.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a video on Jan. 14 claiming responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo shooting. While U.S. authorities say the video is authentic, they are investigating whether or not AQAP is really responsible. However, one of the two gunmen, Said Kouachi, was confirmed to have been trained by the organization. Said’s brother, Cherif, traveled to Yemen in 2011 with Said’s passport. It is believed Cherif trained in Yemen at that time and met with radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki.
One of the biggest fears held by U.S. officials is people sympathetic to al-Qaida launching attacks without any international conspiracy. This makes detection and thwarting of terror plots before they materialize extremely difficult.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Rutgers Professor John Cohen said, “You have individuals who are inspired by the ideology but aren’t directly connected to any specific group. They are very difficult for our traditional counterterrorism capabilities to pick up.” Cohen added that American law enforcement agencies should delve into ethnic communities to try and spot signs of radical individuals.
“We should censor what we put into newspapers and magazines and check to make sure we aren’t being offensive,” said Schoolcraft student Abbie Gotberg in response to the question of how the U.S. should prepare for similar attacks.
The Charlie Hebdo office wasn’t the only crime scene in Paris during the week. On Jan. 8, a policewoman was shot dead in the suburb of Montrouge by a gunman named Amedy Coulibaly. The next day, Coulibaly held hostages at a kosher grocery store, and was responsible for the deaths of four people during the siege. Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers were killed by police on Jan. 9.
Since the attacks, Muslim leaders around the world have expressed sympathy for the victims and swiftly condemned the violence. Denunciation of the attacks was especially vocal in the Detroit area.
“The attack violated basic human decency,” said Imam Hamad, executive director of the American Human Rights Committee in Dearborn to the Detroit News. “It violates the fundamental principle of Islam and should not be attributed to Islam or Muslims under any circumstance”.
People across the country are more vigilant toward the potential for terrorism in the name of Islam on U.S. soil. A would-be lone-wolf terrorist plotting bomb attacks on the U.S. Capitol was recently apprehended, indicating hope of stopping lone-wolf attacks before they occur. During a Jan. 16 press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, President Obama announced the U.S. and U.K. will help France with its counterterrorism program.