On Wednesday, January 7, 2015, two Islamic militants, Cherif and Said Kouachi, attacked the headquarters of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Protesting the crude and blasphemous depictions of Muhammad on Charlie Hebdo’s covers, the brothers killed numerous employees of the newspaper. Amidst the chaos that ensued, Charlie Hebdo had its own response. Six days after the shooting, Charlie Hebdo released a new cartoon on their website: one that depicted the Prophet Muhammad, tears streaming down his face, holding a card with the words “Je Suis Charlie.” Above his head, the words “All is forgiven” were written. Following the production of the new cartoon, newspapers around the world were forced to make a critical decision: to print or not to print?
The New York Times, an internationally recognized newspaper, chose to omit the Charlie Hebdo cartoon from their coverage. In making this decision, The New York Times acknowledged both reporter safety and the religious sensitivities of its readers. The illustration of Muhammad on the cover of Charlie Hebdo is blasphe- mous because of its human portrayal of the prophet. If a Muslim reader saw the cover displayed in The New York Times, he or she might have taken offense at its sacrilegious nature.
As we reflect on The New York Times’ choice, the question becomes: would we have printed this cartoon? In considering this question, the Maroon staff sat and debated the merits and the drawbacks of our decision. It is our job to “raise hell” and write the latest news. However, if printed, the cartoon may also offend some of our readers. The line here is a fine one. To maintain freedom of press and the level of integrity in which we pride ourselves, we must make a choice regarding the subject matter we print and the sensitivities of our readers. Would we be abandoning our own slogan by not printing the piece? Yet, if we did print the piece, would there have been backlash from Muslim students? We have a moral obligation to the student body. How would any of us feel if we were to see any sacrilegious image that connects to our own religion? Yet we also have the obligation to uphold our own duties as a newspaper. Debating whether to print this cartoon, we will be forced to decide between the needs of the students and the significance of the news. Beyond these concerns, we are inevitably limited to the confines of a school newspaper. Thus, the decision to print or not to print was a divisive one, but in the end, we had no clear majority needed to make the choice. How could we know what to print if we do not know how you feel? This is our proposal. We will be your voice and continue to maintain the ethics of our own paper, if you respond to us. We will be mindful of the content we print, if you remind us of your sensitivities. We will be your voice, but we cannot do it without you. At the same time, we have to learn our own limitations. Do we at Maroon truly have free speech? What are the restrictions we face? While you reach out to us, we will be reaching out to find our boundaries.