I felt sick when I heard the news.

After an initial feeling of shock upon learning of the killings at the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, I became nauseous when I learned that four five cartoonists were among the twelve murdered during an editorial meeting. I never personally met any of them, but I was familiar with the magazine and its irreverent cartoons and how, in 2006, they defiantly published the Danish Mohammed cartoons when hardly any U.S. newspapers decided to do so (including The Washington Post).

It was not long though, before my shock turned into the determination to join my colleagues in speaking out against the attacks.

It’s the 21st century, but cartoonists are being murdered by people who are living in centuries past. It’s not a left versus right issue; many of my liberal colleagues didn’t support the Danish cartoonists free speech rights and felt that publishing the Mohammed cartoons was wrong. There was much debate about whether the cartoonists had somehow “crossed the line” of good taste and if offensive cartoons should be drawn at all. Of course, no one could name everything which should be on this grand list of offensive images; what is offensive to one person or group isn’t the same for another.

Free speech has to be absolute. If society starts to put limits on what can be said or drawn, it creates an environment where people feel they are justified to act violently against anything they deem offensive to their beliefs, religion, culture, or whatever else.

The cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were equal opportunity offenders. They didn’t just target one religion; all were targeted, as well as politicians and public figures. They pushed the boundaries of what good editorial cartoonists do- skewer the powerful who affect the lives of the less-powerful.

This isn’t the first time cartoonists have been targeted for their work. The Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) website regularly monitors the cases of cartoonists who are threatened, imprisoned, attacked, and killed for what they draw.  Yesterday’s attack brutally ended the lives of four of our own, a huge blow for our fairly small community.

If there’s any good which comes from this tragedy, it’s that the world seems to finally have taken notice.  Cartoonists have been described a a barometer for all free speech rights; a silenced cartoonist is an indicator of an unhealthy environment for freedom of expression in any given society.  If they’re killing cartoonists, journalists, writers, and citizens could be next.

Je suis Charlie;  I am Charlie.  We all must support the freedom of expression Charlie Hebdo represents.

The attack on the offices of satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo is the deadliest in recent history. Here are some of the major terror attacks in France in the last two decades. (Davin Coburn and Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)