Panelists Address Issues of Free Speech and Historical Context for Charlie Hebdo Attack

Panelists Address Issues of Free Speech and Historical Context for Charlie Hebdo Attack

February 03, 2015

Lasell professors gave a historical context and provided a deeper dive into the attitudes behind last month's attack on the French publication Charlie Hebdo at a panel discussion February 3.

On Jan. 7 two gunmen stormed the weekly's Paris office, killing 12 people, including eight journalists and the editor-in-chief. The attack was believed to avenge characterizations of the Prophet Muhammad in satirical cartoons.

The panel discussion, sponsored by the Donahue Center for Values and Public Life, included Professors Joe Aieta, Dana Janbek, Denny Frey and Director of Spiritual Life Rev. Tom Sullivan.

Aieta led a conversation about the historical context for French/Arab/Muslim tensions, while Janbek and Frey addressed the presentation of the shooting by the media world-wide.

"The focus of the [media] coverage was on home-grown terrorism but these stories did not look at the ‘why?'" said Janbek.

Janbek discussed questions that have been raised about media coverage and focus following the shooting - including mistakes made by media interviewers, the legitimacy of experts interviewed and a tendency to link the attacks to all Muslims.

Frey raised the fact that other terrorist attacks occurred in the same time period, including one in Nigeria, but did not receive major media coverage. He ended his presentation with a question to the audience: "Do Western/European lives count more in the media than non-Western/European ones?"

Sullivan also raised questions about the use of power (and violence) and ethical dilemmas that result when powerful groups dislike less-powerful groups utilizing similar tactics.

Questions from the audience centered on whether other religious groups have also been held responsible for the actions of a few. Panelists focused on the idea of a better understanding the issues underlying these conflicts.