"Je suis Charlie Hebdo!" When that phrase -- "I am Charlie Hebdo" -- went viral on the Internet and adorned the signs held by many of the tens of thousands of Parisians who turned out to protest the craven attacks on journalists and police by radical Islamic terrorists, it underscored that the terrorists had done far more to coalesce opposition to their cause than to build support for it.
It also underscored that the Paris terrorists had done more to besmirch the reputation of Islam than all the political cartoonists in the world could ever do.
All believers in Islam should never be blamed for the actions of the French terrorists, or of Isis, or of Al Qaida. To do so would make no more sense than to blame all Christians for the violence and murders perpetrated against those associated with abortion clinics by a tiny percentage of radicals who call themselves Christians.
But every act of violence by radical Muslims makes that message harder to get across to the world.
Just as the World Trade Center attacks united U.S. citizens in their opposition to terrorism and made this nation stronger than ever in that regard, I fully expect that the Paris attacks will strengthen the resolve of France -- and perhaps most other European nations -- to oppose terrorism.
By brutally attacking this small group of journalists and the police who tried to respond, the Paris terrorists also ensured that the message of "Charlie Hebdo" became known to millions of people around the world and not just to the thousands who regularly followed this influential but small satirical magazine.
In fact, the magazine actually grew in influence after 2011 when terrorists firebombed its offices following a controversy over the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed.
For those of us in Montgomery, the home of the Southern Poverty Law Center, that should come as no surprise. When Ku Klux Klansmen firebombed the offices of the SPLC in 1983, the civil rights organization soon emerged much stronger financially and with much wider recognition nationally than before the bombing.
The French people clearly grasp the importance of defending the concepts of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, even when -- or perhaps especially when -- the message is one that might offend some people. Along with the "Je suis Charlie Hebdo" phrase, many of those rallying to mourn the victims of this cowardly attack have shown their support for freedom of expression with raised pens. As someone who has spent his life in journalism, that moves me more than I can express.
There are those who would argue that Charlie Hebdo went beyond the bounds of good taste in its satirical treatment of Islam. That's a legitimate viewpoint, although one with which I disagree. But it would in no way be legitimate in a civilized society to use that viewpoint to suggest that it justified violence or murder against the journalists at Charlie Hebdo.
In a society that believes in free speech, the answer to a political idea with which you disagree is to express a better idea, not to resort to a gun. In a society that believes in freedom of expression, the response to a writing that you believe is not factual should be the truth, not a bomb.
So if you are an American who truly believes in free speech -- one who believes that a true freedom can only exist in a society that treasures and defends the free exchange of ideas -- then you, too, are Charlie Hebdo.
Ken Hare is a former newspaper editorial page editor and editorial writer who now writes a regular column for wsfa.com.
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