Tragic Ball in Colombey – one dead”. This was to be the last headline of “Hara-Kiri”, predecessor to Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine targeted in a shooting in Paris on January 7, 2015 which left 12 people dead. Hara-Kiri’s 1970 headline had been a comment on the death of former president Charles de Gaulle. It appeared to mock the way in which de Gaulle’s death all but eclipsed press coverage of a nightclub fire (nick-named “tragic ball”), which had killed nearly 150 people. But to the French government, this constituted a direct attack on the dignity of the late de Gaulle. The magazine was banned, only to be re-launched as Charlie Hebdo.

In 2015, Charlie Hebdo is far from a shutdown. A week after the shooting at the magazine’s offices, the magazine printed a record 7 million issues, up from its usual stock of 60,000. But, as in 1970, one topic has been salient among the myriad of associations and questions the attack has prompted: How do we understand Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures in France’s society, which prides itself on a rich tradition of satire, yet struggles with conflicting conceptions of cultural and social identity? Innumerable takes on this question have appeared in French, international and social media. And more often than not, these responses fall in to one of two categories.

The first category of responses casts Charlie Hebdo as a heroic symbol of free speech. The shooting, consequently, is understood primarily as an assault on free speech as a legal and cultural institution. Therefore, it is argued, one should respond by upholding the freedom of expression as a pillar of pluralistic society and by asserting Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish its caricatures. According to this view, no realm of authority – be it politics, public figures or religion – is safe from the magazine’s ridicule; provocation is an acceptable motive, not grounds for censorship. The magazine’s defiant publications of Mohammed caricatures, including its reprinting of the highly controversial 2005 Jyllands-Posten cartoons, are considered impertinent, but valiant. After all, few publications have printed similar material, often from fear of violent retaliation. Indeed, Charlie Hebdo’s offices were firebombed in 2011, an attack often considered linked to an issue mocking Sharia law.

The other camp of voices in the debate are just as emphatic in condemning the shooting, but also stress the magazine’s implication in deepening a cultural divide with content that explicitly mocks the Islamic faith. According to this view, it is problematic to ignore the particular context of power discourse within which the magazine operates. We are wrong to believe that the magazine’s ridicule of Islam is simply part of its general tendency to lampoon religion, considering Islam does not have the same standing as Catholicism, France’s greatest religious sect. The country’s Muslim community is in a more fraught and marginalized position. To realize this, one need look no further than the party currently leading the presidential polls according to most estimates: Marine Le Pen’s Front National, a party notorious for its anti-immigration stance and its inflammatory rhetoric, warning that the French nation is deeply threatened by Islamization. Against this background, many have argued, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons stoke the flames of islamophobia while alienating the Muslim community in France.

Both perspectives are indispensable, but both also run the risk of being overly simplistic. The assumption – often made on both sides of the debate – is that there is a “correct” way to interpret what the magazine’s essential message is. To understand why this is problematic, consider how remarkably different the magazine’s detractors and the cartoonists themselves interpret Charlie Hebdo’s Islam-related content. Where some of the former see “what is frankly a racist publication“, the latter see their work not only as defending free speech – this would hardly come as a surprise – but as in fact “defending the freedom of religion”. This is what Charlie Hebdo’s creators intend when drawing cartoons that attack anyone who does not accept the division between the religious and political spheres, as Gérard Biard, the magazine’s chief editor, claimed in a recent interview.

Unless Biard’s account of the magazine’s goals is untruthful or unrepresentative of its other contributors, this raises a troubling question of interpretation. How much weight should one give to each account respectively? In other words, which view – if any – has a greater claim to objectively capturing the magazine’s message: is it the cartoonists’ intention, or the message that we, as readers, receive?

Free speech implies a dialogue over what ought to be said.

If one regards the caricaturists’ stated intention as what gives the material its definite meaning, this leads to an obvious problem: One bestows all power of interpretation onto the magazine’s creators. In broader terms, this amounts to saying that any statement, no matter how dehumanizing, homophobic or racist it appears to some people, is legitimate unless the person speaking admits to whatever he or she is being accused of.

However, critics of the magazine who consider its content racist risk making a similar claim on the monopoly over the right to interpretation. Specifically, they run this risk if they dismiss the possibility that their interpretation differs from the caricaturists’ intention.

This should neither imply that there is no right and wrong, nor that any interpretation is equally valuable and justified. But it shows how crucially important it is to ensure a public dialogue in which competing interpretations can be voiced. Only this exposure to a variety of interpretations allows us to then consider whether the provocative caricatures featured in Charlie Hebdo are conducive to a pluralist society or not.

This process should be viewed as essential to upholding the principle of free speech. Rather than simply ensuring the freedom to say whatever you want, free speech implies a democratic dialogue over what ought to be said and respected as a valuable contribution to public discourse. This is often overlooked on both sides of the controversy regarding voices like Charlie Hebdo.

Needless to say, such a public dialogue is an exacting process, fraught with its own questions of power and representation. In particular, it has been argued that even when a dialogue takes place, bias of various kinds often excludes certain voices and experiences. The issue is further complicated by the existence of legal limits on free speech: In France, the penal code criminalizes both hate speech and the condoning of terrorism. These laws have been invoked in the recent arrest of French comedian Dieudonné for making a public comment suggesting that he sympathized with one of the suspects in the Paris attacks. This shows to what extent the exact line between statements that necessitate public discussion and those that require legal prosecution remains a demarcation difficult to negotiate, especially in the aftermath of terrorist attacks that prompt strong affective responses. Yet this does not diminish, but rather underscores the need for a democratic discussion beyond questions of tightening security or quelling home-grown terrorism, and beyond reductionist interpretations of satire. Ultimately, both camps in this debate would be wise to consider how we can best overcome belligerent attitudes of “us” versus “them” which, while they may invoke the idea of free speech, ultimately make democratic societies less tolerant.

The 7,000 illuminated balloons winding through Berlin this November 9 marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Despite the celebration, the wall is in the midst of an identity crisis. While the western side of the wall had always been covered in graffiti, the murals painted on the eastern side were revolutionary — under communist control, armed guards were told to shoot any would-be vandals (and escapees) on sight. One year after the wall fell in 1989, artists teamed up to create a 1,300-foot-long memorial to freedom that juxtaposed their new paintings against those that had adorned the eastern side of the wall before its fall. The result was a public art exhibition called the East Side Gallery, a vibrant mural including images of kissing politicians and a white dove that expressed hope for a better future. But conflict between the government, the public and the original artists has raised questions about the nature of freedom and artistic expression in a reunified Germany.

Since its creation in 1990, the gallery has not remained a static mural installation — pieces have been chipped away and vandalized, and the weather has slowly deteriorated the paint. In 2000, the Berlin city government claimed that the murals had been destroyed and subsequently made plans to restore them, offering the original artists €3,000 to repaint their works. Some artists rejected this offer — a few looking for higher profits, others arguing that the wall was intended to be a monument to freedom. For years, the prohibition of artwork on the eastern side of the wall was maintained through the brutality of communist guards. The paintings were meant to celebrate the absence of these violently enforced restrictions. But the German government has now decided, 25 years later, to no longer permit visitors to graffiti the wall, to paint over existing graffiti and to then restore the original murals.

Some of the original painters have reveled in the wall’s commercialization. As a result, these artists originally supported the restoration project — for a price. The wall has brought in millions of euros of tourist revenue, and artists have demanded to see a portion of the profits, decrying the €3,000 restoration fee as laughable in the face of the multi-million euro restoration budget. Instead of negotiating, the government objected to these artists’ higher counteroffers and whitewashed the wall, hiring new artists to copy the original works. As a result, several of the original artists sued the government in 2011 for copyright infringement, demanding to see payment for their pieces. The lawsuit is still ongoing, but the questions brought up by the East Side Gallery can’t be solved in a courtroom; they address the very nature of public art and its interaction with the public, the government and artists.

Through public art, artists try to “heighten our awareness and question our assumptions,” says the US-based Association for Public Art. Although art has been increasingly democratized, the process has been, in some ways, a reaction to the public art of the past in which one distinct point of view was represented: the commissioner’s. Still, public art doesn’t always address the needs of the community, particularly in cases where the art offers no outlet for community interaction. In the face of new austerity measures and a youth poverty rate of 20 percent, Germany’s dedication of public funding to art can seem at best idealistic and at worst cruel. Cultural critic and former California Institute of the Arts professor Michael Asher argued that to say public art is inherently democratic is to ignore the fact that such art is based on government control and commission and thus on access to power and privilege. The prioritization of monied interests explains why Bodo Sperling, a founder of the original gallery, calls the product of the government’s new changes the “Disneyland version” of the Berlin Wall. In this sense, public art is often not quite as democratic as it may initially seem.

As a political statement, the East Side Gallery professes the freedom of a democratized Germany. Meanwhile, the government still retains control over the piece, deciding without formal public or artist input whether or not the work has been destroyed, as well as whether restorations will take place and who will complete them. The issue of the Berlin Wall is complex because it necessitates interactions between German citizens, the government, the original artists and even spectating tourists. The solution to Germany’s public art problem requires privileging one view: either that of the government or that of the artists. Since it is fundamentally impossible to create a single work that can accurately reflect the lived experiences of millions of Germans under communist rule, it makes the choice of who tells their story all the more pressing. As these questions come up, however, the city must weigh the balance between public participation and the lack thereof. The restoration of the wall must take into account not just the story of the wall under communism, but also its evolution since that time. And ultimately, if the government wants to preserve Berlin’s rich history, it must maintain both the image and intent of the gallery — a commitment to the freedom of artistic expression that came with a reunified Germany.

Art by Olivia Watson.

While the anger that charged the events leading to the premature end of Ray Kelly’s lecture yesterday was justified, holding the intellectual rights of fellow students hostage was not. Wrestling Commissioner Kelly from the stage stripped other attendees of their right to listen and moreover, undermined the goals outlined by the protestors themselves. The demonstration was a profound misunderstanding of the lecture’s purpose, and by extension, an oversight of more powerful alternative responses to racial profiling. It puts thousands of Brown students in a box without their consent. A coalition largely outnumbered by the student population – bolstered by activists completely unaffiliated with Brown – should not be able to limit the right of everyone else to hear political viewpoints, even problematic ones. To do so is to cast doubt on the intellectual capability of one’s peers to further understand the reasoning behind these policing strategies, and then to decry their injustice.

The disruption empowered a few voices at the expense of silencing many, and unnecessarily so, because the voices of the protestors certainly could have been heard on terms respectful to the free speech of other students attending the lecture. Such an outcome is unacceptable in any intellectual ecosystem that values collective growth. The school’s reputation as a bastion for open-mindedness now appears sullied, but it’s important to recognize that this action is by no means indicative of the university as a whole.

Marian Orr, the director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy, has devoted the entirety of his twenty-year academic career to researching the plight of marginalized communities in urban politics. According to Jamelle Watson-Daniels ’16, who spoke to Professor Orr shortly after the lecture was cancelled, “As a black man, and also as an intellectual specifically studying strategies of political change, his hope was that Commissioner Kelly would be challenged by the intellectual capacity of individuals who are at this school.”

Though the Taubman Center framed the event poorly and failed to explain in concrete terms their motives for bringing Kelly to Campus, it was clearly not Orr’s intention to offer the Commissioner a one-sided platform to condone systemic racism.

The director’s introductory words alluded to the philosophy of Alexander Meiklejohn, an alumnus, former dean, and the namesake for Brown’s first-year advising program. Meiklejohn espoused the right of everyone to hear all viewpoints, believing that change arises through informed intellectual discourse, not through stifling offensive or ignorant opinions. Even if Commissioner Kelly’s “proactive” policing strategies are implicitly racist, outwardly suppressing bigotry breeds the most inwardly stubborn form of obstinacy. When racism is not publicly confronted, it doesn’t disappear, it festers within. Therefore, to compel change requires adopting the bigot’s terms for debate: listening to his logic, even if it may be perverse. Without that understanding, both parties harden in their respective corners, looking down on one another, refusing to search for common ground. Discourse with Commissioner Kelly does not lend legitimacy to his racism; it’s the only tool that can aptly fight it. Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio cannot simply refuse to engage his opponents on stop and frisk, however unreasonable their stance. His campaign staff knows that without dialogue, a more humane policing policy will never come to fruition.

While challenging Ray Kelly in a Brown lecture hall is unlikely to engender change in the NYPD’s policing strategies, silencing his side of the story nonetheless impedes the evolution of public discourse.

While challenging Ray Kelly in a Brown lecture hall is unlikely to engender change in the NYPD’s policing strategies, silencing his side of the story nonetheless impedes the evolution of public discourse. Offering Commissioner Kelly a public forum with a designated space for questions would have assured the audience exposure to the best arguments for his policies, and just as importantly, the best refutations thereof. The demonstrators directly hindered their own cause by robbing attendees of the opportunity to fully inform their opinions and thus become better advocates for minorities oppressed by systemic targeting. Instead, driving him out of town empowered Ray Kelly with further ammunition to label the community ignorant.

Protesting racially motivated policing strategies deserves admiration. So does a candlelight vigil expressing solidarity with minorities victimized by discrimination. But infringing upon the intellectual rights of others by drowning out a speaker in the midst of expressing gratitude to the family of a deceased alumnus is unacceptable. Of equal concern, the protestors’ incendiary chant branding the entire NYPD as racist, sexist, and anti-gay verged on slander, and conflated the police force’s orders with their personal morality. For the same reasons that we reject Kelly’s policy of generalizing people of color, we should not generalize the work his staff does for the city of New York. This is not a black and white issue, and the police force is not black and white either. Not long ago officers wearing that uniform plunged into the smoke of burning towers felled by terrorists to save the lives of helpless New Yorkers – men and women, white and of color, gay and straight alike.

Demonstrators justified their behavior on the premise that Ray Kelly’s policing practices don’t even merit debate. Why is that value judgment theirs to make on behalf of Brown as a whole? How is it remotely possible to draw a clear standard for when it is or is not legitimate to suppress speech, if indeed some viewpoints are offensive enough to warrant such extreme retaliation? And what exactly did shouting down Ray Kelly accomplish, beyond fostering a widespread discussion of this community’s values?

During the anti-apartheid movement, beloved former president Ruth Simmons faced a comparable predicament. As the fiercest of advocates for marginalized communities, she initially refused to listen to a fellow student’s argument for apartheid. Her 2001 inaugural speech expressed remorse: “I have never forgotten these simple words spoken in opposition to my own. They taught me more about the need for discourse in the learning process than all the books I subsequently read. And I have regretted for 30 years that I did not engage this woman’s assertions instead of dismissing her as racist.”

Brunonians, we can do better.

A new BPR media video captures the moment that protestors shouted down NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, inside the amphitheater at Brown University where Kelly had taken the stage to speak. Hundreds turned out to protest Kelly for what many view as racially charged police tactics. University officials have not yet released the official video of the public event, titled “Proactive Policing In America’s Biggest City.”

As Lena has been covering the notable Supreme Court decisions of this past summer, I figured it would be instructive to preview one of this fall’s most significant cases. Next Tuesday, the justices will once again take up campaign finance law when they hear arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. You will surely recall the Court’s precedent shattering opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which found that §203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002’s (BCRA) restrictions on independent political expenditures by corporations and unions violated the First Amendment. It is important to note that, while a novelty when applied to corporations, the Court has long held independent political expenditures – such as a film criticizing Hillary Clinton – implicated an individual’s freedom of speech most intimately. Of course this independence is often at best theoretical, as we are all familiar with the top aides who depart campaigns to lead super PACs supporting their former employers. Nevertheless, it is enough to know that the Court has applied its most stringent standard of strict scrutiny – first to individuals and, since Citizens United, more controversially to corporations – for expenditures, which requires a statute be narrowly tailored to meet a compelling governmental interest.

In McCutcheon, appellants the Republican National Committee (RNC) and Shaun McCutcheon, a wealthy Alabama businessman who has contributed to various conservative candidates, committees, and causes, contest the constitutionality of another section of BCRA. In particular, they challenge BCRA’s biennial aggregate contribution limits, which for the 2013-2014 election cycle cap the amount an individual can give to all federal candidates for office at $48,600; the amount he or she can give to political committees that contribute to candidates at $74,600; and all contributions at $123,200. Although he already contributed $33,088 to sixteen federal candidates during the 2011-2012 cycle, McCutcheon alleges that he wished to contribute $1,776 more to each of them (because, well, any other amount would be downright un-American). To further establish injury and seek the Court’s judgment on all of BCRA’s aggregate limits, McCutcheon also claims that he wished to contribute $25,000 to each of the Republican national political committees (RNC, NRSC, NRCC). All of these contributions are distinct from those at issue in Citizens United, or at least the Court has treated them so for decades. Rather than expenditures spent to independently promote an individual or organizational belief, these are instead contributions, since they were all given either directly or indirectly to the candidate’s campaign.

In the seminal case Buckley v. Valeo, the Court first drew this First Amendment distinction between expenditures and contributions with respect to provisions of BCRA’s antecedent, the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. Whereas expenditures implicate freedom of speech rights, contributions are more related to associational freedoms, since “the transformation of contributions into political debate involves speech by someone other than the contributor.” Furthermore, because contributing monetarily to a candidate’s campaign is but one of many ways to manifest this associational freedom, these limits pose only a marginal cost First Amendment rights. Consequently, the Court in Buckley elected not to apply strict scrutiny to contribution limits, deeming them permissible so long as the government “demonstrates a sufficiently important interest and employs means closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgment” of associational freedoms. A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia utilized this less burdensome requirement in McCutcheon, rejecting petitioners’ attempt to apply strict scrutiny and invalidate the relevant parts of BCRA “for lacking a constitutionally cognizable interest.” This case is therefore a de facto relitigation of Buckley, with appellants hoping the Roberts court will be amenable to another originalist deconstruction of campaign finance law.

Indeed, several of the Court’s conservative justices have previously expressed their desire to eliminate the expenditure/contribution dichotomy set forth in Buckley. The Court would err, however, by disturbing this interest balancing equilibrium. As the D.C. District Court found, the governmental interests identified in Buckley – namely, preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption as well as preventing the circumvention of contribution limits imposed to further the government’s anti-corruption interest – surely meet the threshold of sufficient importance. First, one need look no further than the lobbying scandal in the Bush administration to know that quid pro quo corruption, to say nothing of ubiquitous, more informal influence, remains a problem the government needs to affirmatively combat. While “the scope of such pernicious activities can never be reliably ascertained,” the Court observed in Buckley, “the deeply disturbing examples surfacing after the 1972 election demonstrate that the problem is not an illusory one.” Perhaps this threat is more attenuated today, as President Obama has not intervened in any Department of Agriculture judgments affecting huge campaign contributors. But even this is too much to be maintained: the revolving door, the correlation between committee members and contributors subject to their jurisdiction, and ambassadorial appointments for large donors are all thoroughly unoriginal stories.

Second, the Buckley court took caution to emphasize that aggregate contribution limits were a corollary of base contribution limits, which constrain the amount given to any particular candidate and whose constitutionality appellants do not contest. For without aggregate limits as a complement, base limits could easily be circumvented, with individuals “contribut[ing] massive amounts of money to a particular candidate through the use of unearmarked contributions” to committees likely to contribute to that candidate. As a result, even assuming arguendo that aggregate limits do not themselves serve the interest of limiting corruption – since the donations BCRA precludes McCutcheon from making are all in this instance within the base contribution limits – they remain constitutional due to their inextricable ties to base limits and their effectiveness. This is not to say that upholding aggregate limits will save us from undue influence in federal elections. Indeed, these limits did not preclude McCutcheon from contributing as much as he wanted – and contribute he did – to super PACs that not-so-tacitly and not-so-independently advocated for the candidates he supported. It is to say, though, that the Court ought not strain stare decisis and contort itself into further diminishing a continually compelling governmental interest. Contributions remain distinct from expenditures, and the prospect or reality of corruption demands a level of scrutiny lesser than the government’s regulation of dissident publications.