Charlie Hebdo and Free Speech

I was on Al Jazeera English today, 14 January 2015, from Bangkok, where I was speaking about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and the paper’s decision to print a new edition with a caricature of the Prophet Mohammad on the front cover.
This issue is personal for me, as a journalist, yes, but also as a former Paris Bureau Chief for The Washington Post, from 2000 until 2005.  I was there at the time of the 9/11 attacks, and I remember vividly the outpouring of support from French friends, colleagues and even strangers.  Also, I began my career in journalism as a political cartoonist, for my school newspaper, The Michigan Daily, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  A lot of my cartoons caused offense then  – I once had the entire Michigan football team irate, and looking for me, when I once drew a cartoon depicting the struggling team quarterback with a seeing eye dog.  So as a cartoonist, I know personally how important satire and irreverence is to our political and societal discourse. And threats are sadly commonplace.
But as someone who has lived overseas, I also know that all countries have their particular sensibiities.  Here in Thailand, for example, one does not insult, or satirize, the king.  In Malaysia, stoking up communal violence is a no-no.  And in France, denying the Holocaust is a criminal offense. So we in the West are not purists on this issue of free speech.  The question is, do we want to draw legal lines around speech that is permissible?  Or do we want the consumers – the marketplace – to decide?
These are tough issues – and I’ll have more to say in my regular column for The Edge Review.
Meanwhile, here is my take on Al-Jazeera English, answering questions posed by the anchor in the U.S.  Let me know what you think in the comments section below.
Cheers, Keith
My Al Jazeera Interview: