A few months ago, within the Georgetown Heckler, we debated the merits of retaining pseudonyms as we updated our website. I mentally conjured the image of a frustrated Todd Olson attempting to find the NetID of Ed Nonymous, Devyn or Ian Cognito and wondered what was the worst that could happen if we drew university ire.

Last week, something much worse than the punishments I had envisioned took place in Paris.

In a story that dominated international headlines, 12 individuals were killed at the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by gunmen who were allegedly upset about the publication’s repeated depiction of the Prophet Muhammad and mockery of Islam in its issues.

While most students at this university come from a background where freedom of expression is an unthreatened right, the shooting was a grim reminder that this right has not always been existent nor is its future guaranteed.

On social media and in demonstrations around the world there has been an outpouring of sympathy and solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, but the question looms about how we ought to move forward as the demonstrations end and the “Je suis Charlie” images disappear from our news feeds.

I fear more that freedom of expression will be withered away not by enraged fundamentalists or an authoritative government but by self-censorship from the citizens themselves who, with the purest of intentions, seek not to anger or offend.

We should not seek to erase or silence opinions with which we disagree or to which we take offense. We owe it to ourselves and to society to engage in public discourse.

As summarized by Greg Lukianoff of FIRE, an organization that tracks free speech rights on college campuses, in a recent Washington Post article: “People all over the globe are coming to expect emotional and intellectual comfort as though it were a right.”

At Georgetown, surrounded by perhaps the most diverse array of peers, faculty and speakers we will ever encounter in our lives, we have the opportunity to strengthen our capacity to think critically and explore ourselves and society.

Recently, it seems as though our only collective reaction to controversial opinions is a knee-jerk move to erase them from memory and permanently silence those behind it. From some of the ugliest ideas and statements, we have the opportunity to create some of the healthiest discourse.

If society has no response to opinions it disagrees with other than de facto censorship, we risk losing the ability to intellectually challenge or consider any idea — repugnant or not.

We risk robbing the marketplace of ideas of its only currency.

Silence, self-imposed or otherwise, benefits no one.

If you go to the gym only to lift weights you feel perfectly comfortable with, then you are wasting your time. If we only surround ourselves with opinions we feel comfortable with, then our collective intellectual muscle will wither.

I have long been fascinated by satire. I believe it is a step above any art form in the way it cuts right to the heart of an issue.

It can unveil the ugliest aspects of reality and make you laugh at the same time. It can point out the truth in such a way that you have no option but to smirk at its absurdity and yet understand its basis in reality. On campus, even I’ll admit I was surprised with how quickly the Heckler caught on.

Perhaps satire has risen in our generation so profoundly because we have seen the credibility of mainstream news sources such as Fox News and CNN falter, biased either toward a political ideology or sensationalizing.

Whatever the origins of satire’s ascension, I sincerely hope you do not agree with everything we write. In fact, I hope some of the things we publish make you uncomfortable. If that never happens then I do not feel as though I have properly done my job.

True, sometimes we do just Photoshop the university president’s face onto absurd things, but the Heckler exists to help foster a campus-wide conversation on issues that touch part of all Hoyas lives, through satire.

I was pleased at how people have rallied around the slogan “Je suis Charlie,” but, if we wish to honor those 12 lives senselessly lost last week, we must make sure that we continue to exercise our right to self-expression beyond only engaging with ideas in our comfort zone.

Joe Luther is a junior in the College. He is the editor-in-chief of The Georgetown Heckler.

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4 Comments

  1. Lynn Amarante MD says:

    Fox isn’t faltering. CNN is. Check the ratings before you make incorrect statements.

    • Lynn, While I do not agree with this article on the grounds that it supports a publication that demonizes Muslims (a minority in the country that the publication serves) and has a history of retaliating against its own workers who wish to criticize Christian views, your comment is, to put it simply, stupid. The article is talking about how Fox News and CNN have faltered in credibility – that is putting it lightly. High ratings have nothing to do with credibility. Look at TMZ if you need another example. I don’t write for the Hoya nor do I agree with this article. Charlie Hebdo is not something to rally behind as an example of free speech. They may say whatever they want, but that doesn’t mean we should support their ignorance. Support the people who died and support a call for better Euro-Muslim relationships, but not Charlie Hebdo. However, I also can’t stand by while you lobby ridiculous claims. The facts are clear and objective: Fox News lies. CNN lies. MSNBC lies. Don’t try and hold up Fox News as a beacon of truth when it has been proven time and time again that their reporting is inaccurate at best. If this were a discussion of ratings, your point might be valid. However, that wasn’t the topic. How about you think before supporting liars and start supporting independent media sources.

      http://www.newstatesman.com/mehdi-hasan/2015/01/muslim-i-m-fed-hypocrisy-free-speech-fundamentalists

      http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2015/jan/13/je-ne-suis-pas-charlie-hebdo-paris-march-video

  2. Ratings don’t necessarily correlate to credibility.

  3. He didn’t say Fox News is faltering, he said its credibility is. If it ever had any to begin with. Credibility is not connected to ratings.

    Reading is fundamental, ‘Doctor’ Amarante.

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