The Journal Gazette
Thursday, December 03, 2015 2:58 am

Attack spurs city native to defend free speech

Keiara Carr | The Journal Gazette

In January, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi stormed into the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, killing the satirical magazine’s editor, cartoonists and office visitors.

The killings stemmed from the publication’s satire on Islam.

For journalist and Fort Wayne native Sally O’Dowd, the attack on Charlie Hebdo touched on many levels. She had lived near the office during her time in Paris, where she worked in corporate public relations.

She also lived in New York during 9/11 and the aftermath of that attack. After living in Paris, she moved back to New York.

"Because of the 9/11 connection, and the journalism connection, and the French connection, it was a perfect mix of stimuli that hit me hard emotionally," she says.

"The magazine was near my address where I had lived in Paris. It was near my friend’s apartment, it was near the peaceful protests and vigils at La Place de la République and Bastille. I was within walking distance to those places."

It would be the foundation for the multimedia e-magazine "Creativity Is Risky: Free Speech in a Charlie Hebdo World." O’Dowd says the publication is a passion project that evolved from a series of blog posts she wrote after the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Released last week, the magazine features original reporting from O’Dowd, as well as a book review of "Catharsis," which was written by Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Luz. The publication also offers more context surrounding the role of satire, along with an epilogue by investigative journalist Jim Ylisela focusing on the threats to free speech that occur daily.

"I have always wanted to write something of substance, but a book just hasn’t materialized," O’Dowd says. "But people know that I love writing, and I felt a cathartic need to do something more significant and push my boundaries of technology and art."

Images by photographer Michelle Zapata mirror the publication’s theme of free expression with New York City’s gritty graffiti. On the cover, a women’s face is buried inside a Charlie Hebdo newspaper with the Freedom Tower tucked in the background.

O’Dowd wants to build a social media presence for the publication, encouraging readers to share their opinions with hashtags #creativity?isrisky and #freespeech. O’Dowd says what’s often missing in the criticisms of political satire is context.

"I think one needs to have context before criticizing things. You need to get the facts. Some things are obviously open to interpretation – art is often open to interpretation," O’Dowd says.

"(Charlie Hebdo) was not just focusing on Islam; many others deal with different things. The cover of my magazine (shows a Charlie Hebdo cover) where they are poking fun at (French actress) Catherine Deneuve, which has nothing to do with politics. They’re not anti-religion; they are questioning institutions."

In the magazine, O’Dowd says an essay by French professor Renee Kingcaid of St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame explains how satire has been a literary tradition in France for nearly 500 years. It was an enjoyable respite from priests and hierarchy, and even throughout entertainment today, it’s still an art form that aims at authority, not the masses.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo "struck at the core of French values, just like 9/11 struck at our core character," O’Dowd says.

"France has used political satire for 500 years to poke fun at the monarchy and the Catholic Church and just authority," she says.

"And without it, you wouldn’t have Monty Python, or ‘Saturday Night Live’ or Jon Stewart."

To read "Creativity Is Risky: Free Speech in a Charlie Hebdo World," go to

Subscribe to our newsletters

* indicates required