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The price of free expression

This week I made a short visit to San Francisco. I left full (thanks to all the oysters, bread bowls and Ghirardelli chocolates), tired and with a copy of the SF Chronicle in hand. On my plane ride back to Southern California, I read Thursday’s paper cover to cover. One of the opinion pieces addressing the Charlie Hebdo attacks that took place the day before drew me in.

The writer mentions that Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly newspaper, had been warned by the government prior to both the recent attack and another of similar caliber in 2011 that some of their content was grounds for widespread criticism. Still, the cartoonists and journalists kept on feverishly. Most of their satires were directed at the perils of Islam.

Screenshot of Charlie Hebdo website homepage (Jan. 10)

Screenshot of Charlie Hebdo website homepage (Jan. 10)

It’s no secret that Charlie Hebdo seriously antagonized the victims of their satire. In fact, “A recent cartoon depicted an extremist fighter bemoaning the ‘still no attacks in France’ and suggesting such a New Year’s resolution would be carried out by the end of January.” — published just days before the January 7 shooting that killed 12 and injured 11.

Considering all this, the point the SF Chronicle writer makes is that despite security detail and mass witnesses, the attacks could not be avoided.

“The assault on Charlie Hebdo, in broad daylight against journalists with police protection in one of the most cosmopolitan cities on the planet, reminds us there is no refuge against the forces of repression through terror.”

And so I ask myself the question: At the cost of a dozen lives, Charlie Hebdo was able to publicly criticize Islam for years, demonstrating their own right to free expression and thought. Should the satirists at Charlie Hebdo have recognized a boundary in criticizing Islam simply to protect their own from backlash?

I’m beginning to think the practice of free expression around the world comes at a disgustingly — and increasingly — high price.

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