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Paris Attack Response Stirs #JeNeSuisPasCharlie Discussion

The new edition of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is on sale at Gare de Lyon train station, in Paris on Jan. 14. Asian and Muslim satirists and writers have been at the forefront of a new conversation in the wake of the attack at the magazine's office, challenging the limits of free speech. YOAN VALAT / EPA

The world mourned the senseless deaths in the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, prompting a public global surge in support of free speech and the subsequent outpouring on social media, tagged with #JeSuisCharlie ("I Am Charlie"). But in the days since, that first conversation has given way to a second - with some Asian-American satirists and writers at the forefront - focused on where freedom of speech meets the limits of satire.

Actor, author and Daily Show Correspondent Aasif Mandvi noted in a recent interview that the traditional point of satire was to poke fun at institutions, like religion, government, and big corporations, but that the balance of power could not be ignored.

Aasif Mandvi takes on the limits of free speech in satire.
In this Al Jazeera interview in January 2014, Aasif Mandvi takes on the limits of free speech in satire. Frances Kai-Hwa Wang for NBC News

"There's always been a jester in the back of the court making fun of the king," said Mandvi, in response to a question from NBC News during an interactive appearance on Al Jazeera. “I think it can perhaps move towards racism when you’re punching down, and the people you’re making fun of are the poor or the underprivileged or people who don’t have a voice or don’t have power. I think that is when it perhaps becomes distasteful, and an audience will tell you that.”

Comedian Aamer Rahman, who pinpointed the difficulty in defending any and all speech in his 2014 video, "People have a right to be bigots," took to Twitter after the Paris shooting to swipe back at the inevitable, subsequent calls for all Muslims to condemn the attack.

Actor and comedian Aziz Ansari's pointed messages in response to tweet by Rupert Murdoch in the same vein, went viral.

New York cartoonist Connie Sun offered a somber reflection after the shooting, in the form of a cartoon called “Our job is to keep going.”

Cartoonist Vishavjit Singh, conjured up his own Hebdo-inspired covers, offering a nuanced response to the attacks.

One of several cartoons by Vishavjit Singh, in his "Sikh response to Charlie Hebdo tragedy."
One of several cartoons by Vishavjit Singh, in his "Sikh response to Charlie Hebdo tragedy." Courtesy Sikhtoons

Writer and blogger Daniel Haqiqatjou took an alternate approach and “invented” a fake 21st century solution for Muslims everywhere, writing “That's why I am developing the world's first Muslim denunciation app: The iCondemn®! With the iCondemn®, Muslims can say ‘not in my name’ at the speed of life!™”

The humorists had company in challenging the immediate global reaction of #JeSuisCharlie, from essayists like Sandip Roy, Arthur Chu, and Jenn Fang, who presented the complexities of the #JeNeSuisPasCharlie ("I Am Not Charlie") response.

"So, #JeSuisCharlie because I support free speech unrestricted by state and federal law," wrote Fang. "Yet it is also true that #JeNeSuisPasCharlie. My speech is not — has never been — elevated as a right prioritized above all other concerns."

"I think of myself as a staunch supporter of freedom of expression but I realize the disquieting truth that I could never publish some of the cartoons Charlie Hebdo did. It would go against every fibre of my being," wrote Roy. "But I will defend their right to exist and condemn what happened to them with every fibre of my being as well. But I just cannot say #IAmCharlieHebdo."