The Paris offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Nov. 2011, after it was set on fire in a previous act of aggression. (Pierre-Yves Beaudouin/Wikimedia Commons)

On Jan. 7, two masked terrorists armed with assault weapons entered the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper and killed 12 people. 

The gunmen, later identified as brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, who claimed to be members of Al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch, shouted in Arabic “Allahu Akbar,” which means, “God is the Greatest,” as they fired more than 50 shots, wounding 11 others. On Jan. 9, after a massive manhunt, the brothers were gunned down.

Al-Qaeda, a radical Muslim faction, claimed responsibility for the Paris attack in retaliation against the magazine for its covers, which satirized Muslims and the Prophet Mohammed. Many of the magazines’ covers maligned and defamed The Prophet with inflammatory captions and graphic depictions of him beheading people and tongue-kissing a man dressed in a Charlie Hebdo T-shirt. 

Around the world, the press and journalists considered the Charlie Hebdo assault an attack on free speech, but some in the religious community made a case that the reaction to the killings could lead to infringing freedom of religion. This global debate resonates in Austin. 

“As human beings, we have to respect other people’s beliefs because freedom of speech does not mean I can just say anything I want to say,” said Rev. Reginald Bachus of Friendship Baptist Church in Austin. “I should be able to articulate my views and my thoughts, but I have to do it in a way that is respectable and keeps in mind that other people can have different views,” added Bachus, who also believes the attack was more than just retaliation for the magazine’s satire. 

“I think [the terrorists’] response is deeper than just the drawings. There is a deeper tone to their attacks than just going against the establishment and the newspapers,” he said, adding that the animosity may be due to elitist Western attitudes, the global wealth gap and world poverty.

Local news professionals also chimed in on the attacks, with some reinforcing the message of the millions of protestors who demonstrated against the attacks around the world. 

Although it did not republish the Charlie Hebdo cartoon widely believed to have incited the terrorist incident, Austin Weekly News staff members reinforced the importance of a responsible press. 

“Community newspapers have the power and duty to tell the story — the whole story — of the communities they serve,” said Dawn Ferencak, the newspaper’s associate publisher. “That said, with great power comes great responsibility. Freedom of the press is powerful and important, but mockery of any kind is irresponsible, especially when it’s done by leaders who are supposed to be serving the greater good of a community.”

Echoing Bachus, Michael Romain, the editor of the Austin Weekly News, said the attacks should also be considered in relation to wider issues. 

“Nothing justifies the kind of violence we saw in Paris, but it is important not to make this just an Islamic issue,” he said. “Radicalism and terrorism are not problems exclusive to Islam or even any particular religion. 

“Many of the world’s Muslims have condemned these attacks. Secondly, there’s enough responsibility for these heinous acts to go around,” he said.

“For instance, based on the analysis of various experts — Reza Aslan is one — it is possible that the terrorists who conducted the Paris attacks may have emanated from a radical group of Muslims funded by Saudi Arabia — an American ally. This then raises the question, ‘Shouldn’t we condemn the country that may be a major benefactor of the terrorists while we also condemn the terrorists themselves?’ The global community should be more honest in evaluating, and reacting to, these kinds of events,” Romain said. 

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