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The Onion's former editor has the perfect take on why satire is so crucial to democracy

A vigil for those killed in the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack.
A vigil for those killed in the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack.
Carsten Koall / Getty Images News

Joe Randazzo, former editor of the Onion, argues in a new column that the terrorist attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo proves just how important and how effective satire can be.

Charlie Hebdo had already faced threats of violence and actual violence for years for its provocative cartoons of religious figures, including the Prophet Mohammed. Critics viewed these cartoons as purposely mocking Muslims — although the true goal, according to journalists at the magazine, was to marginalize extremists who would seek to silence them.

Randazzo powerfully explained why satire like Charlie Hebdo's is so important to democracy:

Satire must always accompany any free society. It is an absolute necessity. Even in the most repressive medieval kingdoms, they understood the need for the court jester, the one soul allowed to tell the truth through laughter.

It is, in many ways, the most powerful form of free speech because it is aimed at those in power, or those whose ideas would spread hate. It is the canary in the coalmine, a cultural thermometer, and it always has to push, push, push the boundaries of society to see how much it's grown.

As Randazzo points out, Wednesday's attack — if it was the work of religious extremists, which is not yet confirmed — actually proves that Charlie Hebdo's satire worked. He wrote, "It so threatened its target, cut so deeply at the truth, that it resorted to the most cowardly, most offensive and despicable form of lashing out."

Read Randazzo's full column at MSNBC.