In September 2005, the above twelve Danish cartoons were published, causing widespread controversy over portraying the prophet Muhammad. The outrage, and religious fervour in response led to many protests, countless death threats, a clear attack on the foundation of the freedom of speech, and the deaths of over two hundred people.
Ten years on, the danger of exercising one’s right to free speech is still deadly. At the Paris office of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, twelve people, including the editor of the magazine, several cartoonists, and two police officers, were murdered; 20 left injured in what appears to be a religious extremist attack.
Men, armed with AK47s stormed the weekly editorial meeting of Charlie Hebdo with military precision, executed twelve people, including the officer stationed to guard the office, and fled with the same degree of calm with which the attack was carried out. Police are now searching for the three men involved in the shooting, and Paris is at its highest level of alert.
This tragedy is not the first attack made on the controversial magazine.
The office was firebombed in 2011 for running a cartoon of Muhammad, though none were injured in that attack. Several calls to arms against the magazine have been made by such as American al Qaeda member Adam Gadahn in 2012, and the radical terrorist group ISIS, in 2014.
Witnesses allege to have heard the gunmen shouting, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” and “Allahu Akbar” (God is great, in Arabic). French President Francois Hollande called the incident a terrorist attack “of exceptional barbarism“, but called for unity in France, and declined to point the finger at any specific group of people.
The three gunmen have been identified by the police aged 18, 32, and 34, with former jihad network connections.
Thousands have come together around the world, and have journeyed to Place de la Republique in Central Paris to hold a candle light vigil in honour of those killed in the shooting (Follow the trending #JeSuisCharlie to show your solidarity with the victims, and for the right of free speech).
In an interview with France Inter radio, the former Charlie Hebdo publisher Phillipe Val said: ‘I’ve lost all of my friends today.’ In a heartbreaking tribute to his slain colleagues and friends, Val, who has also been director of France Inter, said:
“They were so alive, they loved to make people happy, to make them laugh, to give them generous ideas. They were very good people. They were the best among us, as those who make us laugh, who are for liberty … They were assassinated, it is an insufferable butchery.
We cannot let silence set in, we need help. We all need to band together against this horror. Terror must not prevent joy, must not prevent our ability to live, freedom, expression – I’m going to use stupid words – democracy, after all this is what is at stake. It is this kind of fraternity that allows us to live. We cannot allow this, this is an act of war. It might be good if tomorrow, all newspapers were called Charlie Hebdo. If we titled them all Charlie Hebdo; if all of France was Charlie Hebdo, it would show that we are not okay with this; that we will never stop laughing. We will never let liberty be extinguished.”