This post by Bill Durodie originally appeared on The Week on 1/7/15.
The motive behind the tragic shootings at the headquarters of satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris has not yet been confirmed but it seems clear that there is a link between the publication’s stance on controversial content and the decision by several masked gunmen to launch such a murderous attack against the staff.
The perpetrators of the attack, in which 12 were killed and several more critically wounded, must be apprehended — but, more broadly, we also need to reaffirm the importance of absolute freedom of expression in an open society — regardless of how offensive it might be to some and, on occasion, how puerile it may become. The solution to bad ideas — as the enlightenment philosopher John Stuart Mill noted — is not censorship but more speech with which to counter them.
By all accounts Charlie Hebdo has certainly been scurrilous and provocative in the past and hasn’t relented in its approach since 2006, when it republished controversial cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, or since 2011 when its offices were fire bombed. Recent front covers have poked fun not just at the Muslim prophet, but the pope, Jesus, Jews, various world leaders, and celebrities. Infantile as some of this may seem, it is also a reaction to an increasingly censorious society.