Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Satires should have their limits

By Hu Xingjian (China Daily) Updated: 2015-01-12 07:46

Satires should have their limits

Members of FCCC hold placards reading "I am Charlie" in Chinese and French at the event. [Photo/CFP]

The attack on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Jan 7 that claimed 12 lives, including those of the magazine's editor and three of the finest cartoonists in France, was the deadliest in four decades and should be condemned by one and all.

For many people, France is the birthplace of liberty, equality and fraternity. And the French cherish their freedom like no other race. So the dastardly attack on Charlie Hebdo has not only caused outrage, it has also raised the hackles of the French. Is liberal society under threat?

With ideals such as "all humans are equal" and "everyone is born free" as its foundations, European society has been open to all religions and cultures, and even attracted a large number of Muslims. The economic boom and social prosperity Europe experienced after World War II pushed the cultural and religious conflicts-especially those related to Muslims-into the background. But instead of dying out, the embers of the conflicts continued to smolder below the surface. The attack in Paris suggests the embers have flared into flames.

After a society's political structure is in place, disputes should be referred to the judiciary. Charlie Hebdo, a non-conformist weekly publication that excels in cartoons, polemics and reports, is especially known for its no-holds-barred cartoons, sarcastic articles and satirical jokes. And the very nature of the magazine prompted the Grand Mosque of Paris, the Union of Islamic Organizations of France and other religious groups to file lawsuits against it in the past.

French courts, however, turned down these lawsuits against the magazine. A court can only pass a verdict based on the law of the land. And if a case involves freedom of expression, a court will see it only from the legal point of view, not from an overall social perspective, because it is not expected to tread beyond the realm of the law. In this sense, Charlie Hebdo had not violated the laws of France. But by satirizing Islam and lampooning Prophet Muhammad it has invited the wrath of not only Islamic extremists but also many moderate Muslims. In fact, the Muslim world's violent reaction to the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo in 2012 forced the French government to temporarily shut down its embassies and schools in more than 20 countries.

The debate over racial prejudice and Charlie Hebdo's right to exercise the freedom of expression will continue, so will the discussions on cultural conflicts among different ethnic and religious groups in Europe and the world beyond. But since laws alone cannot resolve the differences, every member of society has to determine the extent to which he/she can go in criticizing, satirizing or lampooning a country, a group or an individual.

The author is an associate professor with the Southwest University of Political Sciences and Law.

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