Obama Administration: Charlie Hebdo ‘Offensive’ or ‘Martyrs for Liberty’?

By Brittany M. Hughes | January 7, 2015 | 4:08pm EST

(CNSNews.com) -- Secretary of State John Kerry responded to attacks Wednesday by terrorists on a Paris-based magazine during which 12 people were massacred by gunmen, hailing the slain journalists as “martyrs of liberty” despite previous remarks by the White House that the magazine’s satirical cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammed  were “deeply offensive” and that it had “questions about the judgment” of the magazine to publish such images.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In his remarks Wednesday, Kerry condemned the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, a weekly satirical magazine with a longstanding record of publishing provocative images mocking Islam and Christianity, including some highly sexualized illustrations.

“They may wield weapons, but we in France and in the United States share a commitment to those who wield something that is far more powerful – not just a pen, but a pen that represents an instrument of freedom, not fear,” said Kerry.

“Free expression and a free press are core values, they are universal values,” he said, “principles that can be attacked but never eradicated, because brave and decent people around the world will never give in to the intimidation and the terror that those seeking to destroy those values employ.”

“I agree with the French imam who today called the slain journalists martyrs for liberty,” he added.

Obama also spoke out against the attacks on Wednesday.

President Obama, flanke by Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice makes a statement on the terrorist attack today in Paris. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

“The fact that this was an attack on journalists, attack on our free press, also underscores the degree to which these terrorists fear freedom -- of speech and freedom of the press,” Obama said. “But the one thing that I'm very confident about is that the values that we share with the French people, a belief -- a universal belief in the freedom of expression, is something that can't be silenced because of the senseless violence of the few.”

But two years ago the administration was not so quick describe the journalists at Charlie Hebdo as heroes of the free press.  At a briefing in 2012, a reporter asked then-White House Press Secretary Jay Carney about the administration’s position on the magazine’s recent publication of a provocative image featuring Muhammed, whom Muslims revere as a prophet.

“The French government has decided to temporarily close their embassies and schools in several Muslim countries after a satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, that published cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Is the White House concerned that those cartoons might further fan the flames in the region?” the reporter asked.

French citizens gather in Paris to denounce the terrorist attack against magazine Charlie Hebdo and to rally in defense of free speech. The sign, in French, says, "I Am Charlie."   (AP)

“Well, we are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the Prophet Muhammad, and obviously, we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this,” said Carney. “We know that these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory.”

“But we’ve spoken repeatedly about the importance of upholding the freedom of expression that is enshrined in our Constitution,” he said. “In other words, we don’t question the right of something like this to be published; we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it. And I think that that’s our view about the video that was produced in this country and has caused so much offense in the Muslim world.”

“Now, it has to be said, and I’ll say it again, that no matter how offensive something like this is, it is not in any way justification for violence — not in any way justification for violence,” Carney added.

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