In 2006, the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo reprinted 12 cartoons featuring the Islamic prophet Muhammad that had originally appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten along with a few additional works of their own. It was meant to show solidarity. An exercise of free speech, especially in the face of religious extremism. In 2011, their offices were fire-bombed. They printed more cartoons of Muhammad in 2012, pushing the envelope even further.
In 2015, Islamic extremists barged into the Charlie Hebdo offices and killed a dozen staffers.
This week, more than a dozen people accused of providing weapons to those murderers are going on trial, and Charlie Hebdo is responding by reprinting all those cartoons of Muhammad along with a famously controversial cover, all in an effort to show free speech will always win out.
A piece introducing the issue notes that they’ve never run other Muhammad cartoons, not because they were scared, but because they always felt they needed a “good reason to do it.” They weren’t picking on Islam just for the hell of it. But this trial is a good opportunity to remind people, especially younger people, what this whole controversy is about:
… These drawings are now part of history, and history cannot be rewritten, nor can it be erased…
It was inadmissible for us to approach this trial without communicating them to readers and citizens. Because since 2006, fourteen years have passed, and the young French people who have been born since will be the witnesses of a trial that they would not understand, these drawings having never been republished. It is therefore a duty of information which imposes to bring to the knowledge of the public these documents which have both historical and criminal value.
… Do we want to live in a country which prides itself on being a great free and modern democracy, and which, at the same time, gives up on asserting its deepest convictions? For our part, it is out of the question.
As they said, reprinting these cartoons isn’t gratuitous; it’s a reminder that defending free speech means defending speech you may not like. Blasphemy is always in the eye of the beholder, but responding to mockery with violence reveals the moral bankruptcy of the attackers. If you can’t handle people mocking your beliefs, get better beliefs.