The war on speech

Freedom of speech is a right boasted by democracies around the world. It is one of the key freedoms promised under such governments. However, in recent months it has been under attack.

“The Interview,” starring James Franco and Seth Rogen was just the beginning. Since its announcement, it stirred controversy. With a plot centered on the assassination of Kim Jong-un, it enraged the North Korean dictator. According to BBC News, in June, Kim Jong-un declared the film an "act of war" and threatened an attack on the United States if production was not put to an end. However, the United States ignored North Korea and allowed production to continue.

A message posted online by from the Guardians of Peace “warned of a 9/11-like attack on movie theaters that screen the Sony Pictures Entertainment film,” reported USA Today back in December.

According to USA Today, soon following the threats many major cinema chains, including Carmike Cinemas, cancelled showings of “The Interview.” Not long after, Sony withdrew the movie.

The threats issued by the North Koreans sparked a small debate regarding freedom of speech and whether there should be some restrictions. However, it grew drastically following a terrorist attack in Paris.

Charlie Hebdo is the name of a French satirical magazine that is known for making satirical cartoons regarding religion and politics. Some of these cartoons even contain inappropriate drawings the Pope and the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, which has enraged many citizens and resulting in a fire-bombing in November of 2011.

Despite this attack, the magazine continued with the same humor that got them in trouble. Little did they know they would find themselves being on the end of another attack. On Jan. 7, 2015 two highly trained, armed masked men (brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi) infiltrated the magazines headquarters, and according to The Huffington Post, killed 12 people.

The brothers were tracked down and killed by police officer just two days later after revealing to local media that they were aligned with Al Qaeda.

The attack brought Charlie Hebdo to the attention of international media. With the spotlight on it, the magazine, published a new issue the week following the shooting, depicting Muhammad holding a sign saying “Je suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie.”

Following its release the magazine sold out, but also angered even more people, predominantly Muslims. These people quickly took to the streets and began rioting across the Islamic world. According to the Washington Times, at least 10 people died as a result of the rioting. Christian run buildings were set on fire. In Pakistan, “A Christian school and orphanage were set afire,” wrote Christopher White for the Washington Times. He added, “The Niger government said at least 45 churches were set on fire in the country as part of the protest.”

With all the hostility towards the freedom of speech, many people are unsure of how to react. Following the hacks on Sony, President Barack Obama said, "We cannot have a society in which some dictator in some place can start imposing censorship in the United States," and people, including Sony should not let others intimidate and scare them out of sharing their voices. Charlie Hebdo did as Obama advised and kept going after the attacks, releasing one of its most controversial issues.


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