"Je Suis Charlie"

by History Gal


“I am Charlie.” This rallying cry reverberated throughout the world as millions of people showed their support of the weekly Paris newspaper, Charlie Hebdo. On January 7, armed terrorists stormed into the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people because they believed the newspaper had defamed the Prophet Muhammad in satirical caricatures published in the paper. This was not the first act of violence against the paper.  After their office was firebombed and destroyed in 2011, Al-Qaida and other extremists issued threats of more deadly violence, even offering money for killing the magazine’s publication director, Stephane Charbonnier. Yet, despite the threat of violence, Charlie Hebdo continued to publish the satirical images of the Prophet Muhammad. Even after the attack, an emotional Charlie Hebdo staff placed an image of the Prophet Muhammad on the cover. Would you risk your life to publish an article or an image in a newspaper?

The Attack
Not sure how to explain the events surrounding the terror attack? The Associated Press has two interactive sites that will help you. Terror Attack on French Paper takes a look at the events surrounding the attack including who the attackers were, who was targeted, who was killed, and a list of other recent deadly terrorist attacks. Global al-Qaida Operations examines the perpetrators of the attack, an al-Qaida branch in Yemen, as well as three other active al-Qaida branches. Another good resource is The Telegraph’s Charlie Hebdo Paris attacks: A timeline of events which gives a video account of the attack and the days that follow. 

Reaction from Around the World
You can use front pages of newspapers from around the world to show students how the world reacted to the terrorist attack. Find a copy of your local paper’s January 8th edition. How did they report on the attack? Was it front page news or was the article found inside the paper? Compare your local paper’s coverage with the coverage from a larger newspaper like The New York Times or USA Today or to the coverage of an international newspaper like The Guardian or The Telegraph. You can find older editions of newspapers online or at your local library. Even if your students cannot read French, it is worth examining the front page reactions from French papers gathered by CBS News.
Days after the attack, 1.5 million people attended a unity rally in Paris. Let your students view images from the rally posted by CNN and read or watch The Telegraph’s unity rally coverage. After learning about the unity rally, ask students to create 5 tweets of 150 characters or less about the event or have them write an editorial about the absence of high-level American government official.
In their first published issue after the attack, Charlie Hebdo maintained their right to publish images of the Prophet Muhammad by placing his image on the front page. Reaction to this move was varied. View the Newseum’s collection of newspapers’ front pages from around the world as they covered the news of Charlie Hebdo’s first edition after the attack. Some newspapers boldly reprinted Charlie Hebdo’s front page while others did not. Have your students discuss why they think some papers chose not to reprint the image. Students can read The Guardian’s explanation for their decision not to republish Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Then, direct students to The Telegraph’s video and BBC’s article about the world’s reaction to Charlie Hebdo’s cover.

What is Freedom of Press?
Many of us live in nations where freedom of the press is a legal right. We almost take it for granted. Our journalists do not live in fear of arrest, torture, or death because of something they published. But, around the world, many journalists do live in fear. Have your students explore the Freedom House map and identify what areas of the world have freedom of the press, partial freedom of the press, and no freedom of the press. Here’s a blank world map you can print if you’d like your students to create their own freedom of press map.
 According to Freedom House, only 14% of the world’s people live in a nation that has freedom of the press. 14% - that’s a very surprising percentage! For a more in depth look, read Reporters without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index 2014 (a pdf download).  Next, have your students take Aljazeera’s interactive quiz about freedom of the press around the world and then discuss the following questions:

Why is freedom of press a sign of a democratic government?
Why is freedom of the press important?
Is freedom of the press worth dying for?
Are journalists who die because of what they wrote heroes?


Then, let your students watch the Newseum video about the Journalists Memorial and the preview for the film Killing the Messenger: the deadly cost of delivering the news. To wrap up, complete the Newseum’s Case Study on Controversial Cartoons.
Freedom of the press is an essential right in our democracy. These attacks highlight that it is not to be taken for granted. The pen is a powerful, and to some, a threatening, tool, but a free press ultimately strengthens our democracy. Take some time in your classroom this week to help students understand the importance of a free press by incorporating one or more of these Internet resources and lesson ideas.

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