Search form

Attack on ‘Charlie Hebdo’ is an Attack on All of Us

Today's terrorist attack on the Paris offices of French satirical magazine 'Charlie Hebdo' begs us all to step back and reflect on the high costs of freedom of speech.

While AWN’s editorial focus is, first and foremost, all things animation, today’s terrible attack on innocent civilians working at a media outlet specifically targeted for retribution solely because of ideas deemed blasphemous, begs us to take a step back, survey the senseless carnage and, with a profound degree of sadness, ask ourselves, “Just what the hell is going on?”

The facts of the attack seem clear: as has been widely reported, the Paris headquarters of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was the target of an attack by three gunmen early Wednesday morning, leaving 12 people dead. The assault took place during the weekly meeting of the French magazine’s editorial team, and the victims included eight journalists, including beloved French cartoonists Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier and Jean “Cabu” Cabut.

Masked gunman systematically assassinated staff singled out as authors and publishers of political cartoons lampooning Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. No stranger to controversy, Charlie Hebdo is well known for its aggressive support of freedom of speech. Highlighting its long history of often controversial comics and caricatures, the magazine drew international attention in 2006 when it re-printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that had originally appeared in a Danish daily newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. Charlie Hebdo‘s offices came under attack in a fire-bombing in November 2011 after publishing a special issue with the Prophet’s likeness on the cover. In 2013, the magazine issued yet another challenge with the publication of a comic-book biography of Mohammed.

The magazine had steadfastly professed its refusal to back down from publishing such content, no matter who might deem it controversial or offensive. Today, 12 people so far have paid for that stance with their lives. How many pay tomorrow, the next day or the next year remains to be seen, I’m truly sad to say.

France’s President Francois Hollande described the tragic event as an act of terrorism, declaring Thursday a day of national mourning. He said the country's tradition of free speech had been attacked and called on all French people to stand together. “Our best weapon is our unity,” Hollande said in a televised address late on Wednesday. In a statement issued this morning, President Barack Obama said, “I strongly condemn the horrific shooting….Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this terrorist attack and the people of France at this difficult time.”

The conflicting emotions I felt waking up to the latest jarring news report decrying yet another act of global terror, this time in a Paris suburb, in broad daylight, perpetrated in the name of religious politics, begs the question: Where do I stand in all this? Is this terrible act of terrorism any more appalling than the previous ten, or fifty, or one hundred? When it’s so easy to shake my head in sadness and pause for a moment before continuing my search for what’s playing Friday night at the Arclight, why does this attack feel so much different? Why, after a whole day ruminating on this tragedy and trying to keep busy, do I feel so upset? So sad? So angry?

So much of my day is spent celebrating artistic expression every bit as interesting, provocative, outrageous and insensitive as the work of Charlie Hebdo. I find much of it lazy and mediocre, created without much thought or talent. But it’s inconceivable to me to think any of it should somehow be silenced or repressed for any reason, no matter how abhorrent I find it. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, these are sacred bedrocks in the foundation of much of the world. But not all. No matter how much I disliked The Interview or scratched my head at the fact it was even made, the idea a group of hackers could threaten Sony and theatre owners to such a degree they initially canceled the film’s release is a new, utterly sad reality I’m still trying to wrap my mind around. And now, we have today’s horrific events to consider as well.

The war on terror, though always dynamic, seems much easier to identify and assess than the war on freedom of expression, with its murky, often seemingly innocuous front lines and minor skirmishes. So as I get ready for dinner, sifting through the latest updates from Paris, I have to ask myself rhetorically about Charlie Hebdo’s political stand: Was it worth it? I have it easy. I get to be a big bad-ass moralist sitting in a cozy office, tablet in hand, gleefully lambasting perceived idiots on Twitter. I’ve had to explain questionable editorial decisions to my wife, but never beg for my life at gunpoint because of them.  

It’s so easy to make the jump from regional human tragedy to high-level moral outrage. Right now, it doesn’t seem appropriate. Whether or not there’s finger pointing to do, right now, it won’t be from me. Though at the same time, it seems callous and indifferent not to say anything about the obvious ramifications of such a despicable act of violence as we have seen here today.

I feel like a five-year-old needing to ask my mom, “Why can’t we all just live in peace?” Unfortunately, that’s a question I’ve never been able to answer and probably never will. So for now, I’m left with a deep sense of loss, for the families of those killed and wounded as well as the families of all those who continue to lose their lives standing up to the terrorists of the world.


Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network. 

Tribute image by Yves Tennevin || CC/by-sa/2.0
Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.