I scrolled through my timeline, stupefied. At first, I didn’t realize the magnitude of the situation, as I have a disproportionate number of French friends and news outlets I follow on Twitter. But as pencils appeared in profile pictures, and Je Suis Charlie was scrawled in cursive across the Internet, I knew it was bigger than I had imagined.
Having spent nine months in France last year, my heart ached for the country and its citizens as they coped with the aftermath of the January 7th attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine, and one I was quite familiar with. While studying abroad, my class had their original cartoons of Mohammed in our French culture class, during a unit on immigration and the cultural tensions between native Frenchmen and foreign immigrants, many of whom are Muslim. The day after the attack, my classmates and I received an email from this teacher describing his reaction upon learning of the death of these cartoonists whose chronicles of historical events he’d grown up with. The truth was unavoidable… this was a big deal.
As a journalist and writer, I was doubly affected. Censorship is an issue I take very seriously, having been told since I started writing online that I have to be careful what I say, careful not to offend anyone, careful not to raise too many eyebrows, because anyone can read this, because if you Google me, you will find me. I don’t think others should have the right to decide what you can and should believe and share and think and write. Your thoughts and opinions are your own, and as long as you don’t harm anyone, you shouldn’t be prevented from sharing what you believe.
Charlie Hebdo’s slain editor-in-chief, Stephane Charbonnier (known also under his pseudonym Charb) once said, “A pencil is not a weapon. It’s just a means of expression.” So whether or not you support Charlie Hebdo as a publication, raise your pencils in solidarity for fellow journalists and in support of free speech, for in that regard, we are all Charlie.