Pen-Ultimate (Freedom of Expression) and the Racist Spectacle of #JeSuisCharlie

by Leila Gaind

Paris_Unity_March_for_Freedom_2015_(3)On January 7th, 2015, two brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, broke into the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris and murdered twelve people, including the editor-in- chief and several of the magazine’s most celebrated cartoonists and columnists. This horrific attack led to a nearly instant outpouring of grief and support for the publication, and the Internet exploded with the hashtag “JeSuisCharlie” (I am Charlie).[i] Four days after the shooting, many of the world’s most powerful leaders, including Angela Merkel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and David Cameron, congregated in Paris to take part in a march of unity, standing in bold defiance towards what President Francois Hollande as an “act of exceptional barbarism.”[ii] The massacre and the subsequent demonstrations in France, the most monumental since the end of the Second World War, commanded global attention, and the images of millions of Parisians standing in solidarity against this violent act were transmitted instantaneously throughout the media.[iii] However, while the events that unfolded were undoubtedly tragic and horrific, the popular discourses that have emerged since January 7th have been reductive and have served to perpetuate a singular, limited narrative.[iv] The aim of this paper will be to investigate the “JeSuisCharlie” sentiment and its underlying roots in order to demonstrate how it has deployed the principle of free speech in a way that reinforces the growing anti-Islam attitude in France and hardens existing ‘us vs. them’ binaries.

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