The Morningside Post Editor-in-Chief, Priyanka Johnson, discusses the Charlie Hebdo attacks and freedom of expression in light of the Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary. By Priyanka Johnson C harlie Hebdo, the French weekly newspaper, habitually shocked the world. A satirical journal favoring an irreverent style, they were rather rude, unpolished and unrefined bordering on crass. In a world that tries hard to be politically correct, Charlie Hebdo was unapologetically impertinent. The news of the terror attack on its offices generated a very different kind of shock. The reaction was immense; and even after pages of newsprint and gigabytes of online discussions, it is far from being a thing of the past. It has evolved into a pivotal symbol in the discourse on freedom of expression. The year 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta and incidentally the year I graduate from SIPA. It also marks the end of my term as Editor-in-Chief of The Morningside Post. Through my own struggles with the concepts of the rights and freedoms, I tried to understand the reaction to Charlie Hebdo. An issue I’ve often dealt with on The Morningside Post is having a reader take offense to a story. It’s denounced as being badly written, badly researched, factually incorrect or even false. Of course the editors are accused of being incompetent and having no sense of judgment. Yet, after wading through the diatribe, in most cases it’s obvious that it is really the opinion expressed in the narrative that’s at the center of the quarrel. Everyone deserves a platform to have his or her say. As editors we function as custodians of that platform – charged with maintaining it and keeping it in shape for the next slew of opinions. If anyone throws dirt at that platform, we have to clean up the mess. Consequently, I find myself defending opinions or points of view I don’t necessarily agree with. But as long as the premise is logical, the facts are solid, and the way those facts were obtained adheres to journalistic standards, it has the right to be out there. I’ve come to realize that criticism actually takes the discourse forward. When expressed adequately, it strengthens powerful arguments and destroys weak ones. On the other hand, when critique is reduced to flinging insults and name calling, it indicates a level of truth so stark, it evokes a sentimental response. Before working for this publication, my approach to platforms like Charlie Hebdo was to ignore them for the most part. There was an unarguable truth embedded in their obvious mockeries but perhaps their bright colors, tawdry cartoons and questionable language made them easy to dismiss. But then came the attack, the sheer viciousness of which forced society to acknowledge their work. I was fully and truly shocked once more by Charlie Hebdo when I realized the reason for my response. It was because I felt guilty. I was guilty of ignoring the real ideas they presented because they struck at my sensitivities –sensitivities disturbed by a glaring truth and a brazen disregard for modesty as presented in those caricatures. It is often the things we hate most about ourselves that we loudly condemn in others. So when I stood with everyone and denounced the terrorists, I was condemning the part of myself that was dismissive of Charlie Hebdo. When I joined the post attack outrage in asking, “Who do they think they are?” I was really asking myself, “Who did I think I was to be offended by a drawing?” The attack was completely irreverent of human life without a shred of basic human decency; a vulgar overreaction to a humorous cartoon drawing. It was the irreverence, indecency and vulgarity that shocked me into realizing a truth. Ironically, that’s exactly what Charlie Hebdo tries to do. Priyanka Johnson is a second-year Masters of International Affairs student. This story first ran in the print edition of The Morningside Post on April 20, 2015.