Freedom of speech and expression apply both to written and visual expression. Political satire, which can also be produced through illustrations, is a form of critique with a long tradition.
During the recent years we have seen many disputes which have been related to what one can and cannot illustrate or make fun of in the name of freedom of speech, and where are the limits of good practices of illustration.
The Muhammad cartoon dispute started in 2005 when Denmark’s largest daily paper Jyllands-Posten published twelve cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The motive of the paper was to create public discussion on freedom of speech and to test whether the limits of freedom of speech have
changed in Denmark since more Muslims moved to the country.
Many Muslims both in Denmark and elsewhere became agitated over the illustrations, as it is not considered acceptable in Islamic tradition to portray the Prophet. Kurt Westergaard’s illustration was considered especially offensive, as in it Muhammad carried a bomb in his turban. The illustration connects Islam and Muhammad with terrorism.
As reactions to the comic controversy, there have been boycotts of Danish products and demonstrations around the world, some of which have been violent. Some Muslim countries recalled their diplomats from Denmark.
Actors in the Western world answered to the reaction of the Islamic world by re-publishing the comics in various media in many countries, for the sake of freedom of expression. The non-governmental organisation Reporters without Borders supported the publication of the illustrations.
Previously to the attack in 2015, the newspaper stirred controversy when it covered the Muhammad cartoon dispute and showed its support to Jyllands
Posten by publishing a series of animated cartoons of the Mohammad, including nude pictures. The newspaper’s website was hacked the following year.
In January 2015 armed men assaulted the editorial office of the French satire paper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The two attackers, armed with automatic weapons, killed 12 people including 8 editorial members.
Charlie Hebdo is a weekly sarcastic newspaper, published in Paris. Its themes revolve around cartoons, report, altercations and jokes. The publication is well-known for politically incorrect cartoons that aim at provoking people.
The paper had published caricatures of all the major religions as well as of well-known political figures from the left to the far right. In France itself, Charlie Hebdo is considered tasteless and vulgar by many.
As a consequence of the attack, comic artists and journalists around the world
expressed their support for freedom of speech. In social media, the support
manifested itself more widely as the slogan “Je Suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) and the corresponding hashtag.
Support demonstrations were organised around the world. The largest of them took place on the Parisian Place de République, where over 1.5 million people gathered. The march featured heads of state from every angle of political spectrum, such as President of France François Hollande, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, President of the Palestinians Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, President of Mali Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Prime Minister of Finland Alexander Stubb, Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán, Foreign Minister of Russia Sergei Lavrov and Prime Minister of the UK David Cameron.