If you are reading this, it might mean that your attention has been caught by at least one of these two cartoons and, for some reason, you want to know more about it. That is exactly why cartoons are drawn: to arouse interest, to spark debate, to produce reactions, to raise awareness, to put into question, to encourage dialogue, to promote free thinking, to illustrate a plurality of opinions (not necessarily those of the author) and much more. These cartoons are not meant to shock nor to provoke anyone for the sake of it.

These cartoons are meant to raise questions. Is it still possible to draw cartoons on all topics ? Did the slogan “I am Charlie” miss something on the way ? What is the scope of self-censorship of press cartoons about religion in general and Islam in particular ?

These cartoons are also meant to pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists. Is it so surprising to honor those who were killed for their drawings concerning Islam with drawings about the same topic ?

Cartoons are the embodiment of the right to criticize, to satirize, to mock, to ridicule, to offend, to express, to inform, freely, all at once. Nothing is sacred for every single human being at the same time. What’s sacred for some might not be for others. Conveying that very idea through a cartoon should not be considered an infringement of one’s beliefs. Cartoonists who exercise their fundamental rights do not trample on anybody else’s fundamental rights.

Three years have passed since the January 7, 2015, day of the shooting in the premises of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, that ended with the death of twelve people. Three years during which mainstream newspapers scarcely published satirical cartoons related to Islam and Islamism while Charlie Hebdo continued to cover those topics, like any other topics. Self-censorship among the media, already high prior to 2015, has continued to make Charlie Hebdo stand out when it comes to Islam, Islamism and terrorism. Worse, it has reduced Charlie Hebdo to a newspaper seemingly obsessed with the question of Islamism and Islam. It has nurtured the false idea that Charlie Hebdo is “Islamophobic,” a concept which is the instrument of the enemies of freedom of speech. Self-censorship of the mainstream media endangers cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo and their likes.

As Charlie Hebdo’s late editor-in-chief Charb wrote* in his last book:

If we dare publish a front page depicting the prophet or a character that could be seen as him, the drawing will be taken as the ‘latest provocation of Charlie Hebdo.”[…] Self-censorship is fast becoming a major art in France.

Today, if Charlie Hebdo dares publish a front page on Islamism or in relation to Islam, it will trigger even more accusations. Indeed, on August 22, 2017, Charlie Hebdo was accused on social media of hatred against Muslims and Islam after its cartoon about the terrorist attack in Barcelona a few days earlier. An accusation of Islamophobia designating, once again, the newspaper as a target for extremists. On November 6 the same year, the newspaper received death threats after a cartoon of Oxford scholar Tariq Ramadan. In fact, the threats and hate mail never really stopped after the January 2015 attack. Attempts to lower the limits of freedom of expression persist while global support, illustrated by the slogan “I am Charlie,” is weakening.

On the occasion of the commemoration of the tragic attack on press freedom and freedom of expression, unconditional support must be shown to cartoonists who refuse to obey the injunctions of Islamists and continue to draw cartoons freely. By doing so, those cartoonists are fighting for their fellow citizens freedoms.

Cartoonists all over the world should refuse that the limits of what they can draw be lowered arbitrarily, illegally and violently by a very small number of radical and sick minds. They should remain united at all times and not leave cartoonists such as those of Charlie Hebdo isolated.

Although it is obvious that the “I am Charlie” slogan should not be reduced to the issue of cartoons on Islam, Islamism or the prophet. However we should not forget that satirical cartoons on these topics are indeed inherent to the “spirit of Charlie.”

Freedom of the press and freedom of expression might not be absolute rights, but these rights must be defended absolutely. And one of the best ways to defend freedom of expression and press freedom is to exercise them.


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