Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based nonprofit that defends freedom of the press, usually is focused on the world’s most dangerous places for reporters, like Syria. But on Wednesday, the kind of terror the organization typically monitors in other locales hit home when three gunmen killed 12 people at the Parisian satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
“We are all extremely shocked,” said Delphine Halgand, U.S. director of Reporters Without Borders, who spoke to an editorial writer from Paris shortly after the attack. “This is the kind of horror we’ve seen in Iraq and Somalia, but not in the streets of Paris. This terrorist attack will clearly mark a black day in the history of France.”
But the outrage stretched beyond France after terrorists stormed the offices of the weekly newspaper and reportedly yelled “Allahu akbar” — “God is great” — in Arabic and said they had “avenged” the prophet Mohammed for published cartoons that have depicted his image. The attack reflected a broader, appalling pattern of violence not just targeting journalists, but free expression itself.
“The trend of how media is targeted, the level of violence targeting journalists, has increased tremendously,” Halgand said. “The murders have been more barbaric, with more barbaric propaganda of beheadings. This kind of attack is in this lineage — that information is the target, is part of the war.”
It is a war that cannot be lost. A free press is an essential element of civilized society. Terrorists who wage war on journalists wage war on everyone.
On Sept. 12, 2001, the French newspaper Le Monde ran the headline: “Nous sommes tous Americain” (We are all American). Today, we are all French, and stand with France’s citizens as they grieve over a “black day” that cannot be allowed to darken the future of freedom there or elsewhere.