We tend to think of the value of free speech as a settled argument, but nothing could be farther from the truth—not in the United States and certainly not abroad. Sure, if you asked ten people on the street if they like free speech, you would likely get ten enthusiastic yesses, but you might get a very different reaction if you handed them a newspaper blaspheming their most cherished beliefs—religion, politics, themselves—and asking them if it should be allowed to be printed.
What Charlie Hebdo did to great effect was put that issue in people’s hands and force them to consider where they stood. The editors and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo knew where they stood. After Charlie Hebdo’s office was firebombed, the magazine put out its most famous edition. The cover showed the cartoonist and a presumably Muslim man embraced in a sloppy kiss, with the headline, “L’amour plus fortque la haine.” Love is stronger than hate. They made a brave, irrational bet.