The Paris Shootings: A Look at the Social and Cultural Aspects of France

By Zadie Lacy

January 20, 2015

The shootings in Paris, France, have brought to light some very important social controversies. These issues are not only relevant in France, but on a global scale as well. Two gunmen shot and killed eleven citizens, and wounded eleven others on January 7, 2015.

The attack was aimed at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters, home of a local newspaper, infamous for their satirical cartoons. Some of these cartoons toe the line of controversy due to slightly offensive religious images. All in all there were more than fifty gunshots, all while the gunmen were shouting “Allahu Akbar!” or “God is the greatest!” in English. This led onlookers to believe that the motive for the murderous rampage was religious.

The outrage that sparked the shooting had been Charlie Hebdo’s countless depictions of sacred religious leaders and symbols, such as Muhammed. Not only were the cartoons shown in a satirical setting, but the imagery or depiction of any Muslim religious leader is discouraged and condemned in the Islamic faith.

Police identified the prime suspects as brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, two Muslim men of Algerian descent living in France as members of Muslim terrorist group al Qaeda. These factors only build up more questions about France.

France is a country that particularly prides itself on its advanced attitude on cultural and social aspects of society, such as marriage equality and religion. It has the largest Muslim population in all of Western Europe.

France’s national motto is, “Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!” which translates to “Liberty! Equality! Brotherhood!” which are viewed as the highest values of the country as a whole. About 80% of France’s population is Catholic with a large community of Jewish and Muslim citizens. The statistics and recent events raises a very important question: is France’s culture really as accepting and advanced as they claim to be?

The shootings have shaken the nation and the rest of the world. Since the incident, rallies have ensued supporting the gunmen, and alternatively supporting the French Republic. The depictions of Muhammad and other religious figures were thought to be highly disrespectful and sacrilegious, but the question remains: is the anger justified by the religious rights of Islam, or should Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons be protected by the free speech act?

In light of this huge tragedy, several issues have been realized. Perhaps this is the beginning of a long war on freedom of speech. Perhaps this is the beginning of a cultural revolution in which France, and other nations with diverse populations, learn to accept, respect, and recognize other cultures–and enforce true equality, as the French motto suggests.

Categories: News

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