Charlie Hebdo and The First Amendment

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about the November Sony cyber attack, and that company’s decision to cancel the theatrical release of the film The Interview in response to anonymous terror threats believed to have originated in North Korea.  At the time, Sony was widely criticized for submitting to the threats, and for abandoning its rights of free speech and artistic expression.

Yesterday in Paris, a different threat was realized when three gunmen assassinated 12 people and wounded 11 others at the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.  This terror attack was carried out in retaliation for Charlie Hebdo’s publication of controversial cartoons that depicted the prophet Mohammed in an unfavorable light, to the anger of many extremist Muslims.

Cyber intimidation and brutal attacks are being waged against the freedom of artistic expression.  The First Amendment, and France’s equivalent (included in Article 11 of The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen) are under attack.  As are everyone’s freedoms, all around the world.

The tragic events of September 11 (and events before and since) made me feel that the world is not safe, and that acts of war can hit close to home.  Yesterday’s attack in Paris is upsetting and frightening because it wasn’t a random act of terrorism: people were targeted and executed for exercising their right to free expression.  As a result, free speech around the world has been and will continue to be chilled.  Indeed, many newspapers are not publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.  An AP spokesperson said “it’s been our policy for years that we refrain from moving deliberately provocative images.”

It’s a sad day, and hard to make sense of.  There’s not much legal analysis to do. I commend all who continue to exercise their freedom of expression during these uncertain times.  I wrote this piece because I am Charlie too.