France terror attack: Charlie Hebdo has history of angering Muslims with cartoons

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Paris | Updated: January 8, 2015 4:04:06 PM

The French newspaper Charlie Hebdo's staple is to be provocative - poking fun at popes, presidents as well as...

Charlie Hebdo, Charlie Hebdo France Terror Attack, France Satirical Magazine, French magazine Charlie Hebdo, Charlie Hebdo office, Muslim leaders jokesIn this Sept 19, 2012 file photo, Charb, the publishing director of the satyric weekly Charlie Hebdo, displays the front page of the newspaper as he poses for photographers in Paris. (AP)

The French newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s staple is to be provocative – poking fun at popes, presidents as well as the Prophet Muhammad.

The satirical weekly attacked Wednesday by gunmen, killing at least 12, has a history of drawing outrage across the Muslim world with crude cartoons of Islam’s holiest figure. The magazine’s offices were firebombed in November 2011 after it published a spoof issue that ”invited” Muhammad to be its guest editor and put his caricature on the cover.

A year later, the magazine published more Muhammad drawings amid an uproar over an anti-Muslim film. The cartoons depicted Muhammad naked and in demeaning or pornographic poses. As passions raged, the French government defended free speech even as it rebuked Charlie Hebdo for fanning tensions.

The small-circulation weekly leans toward the left and takes pride in making acerbic commentary on world affairs through cartoons and spoof reports.


”We treat the news like journalists. Some use cameras, some use computers. For us, it’s a paper and pencil,” the Muhammad cartoonist, who goes by the name Luz, told The Associated Press in 2012. ”A pencil is not a weapon. It’s just a means of expression.”

Chief editor Stephane Charbonnier, among the journalists killed Wednesday, also defended the Muhammad cartoons speaking to The AP in 2012.

”Muhammad isn’t sacred to me,” said Charbonnier, who used the pen name Charb. ”I don’t blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings. I live under French law. I don’t live under Quranic law.”

Islam is not alone in being singled out by Charlie Hebdo’s satire. Past covers include retired Pope Benedict XVI in amorous embrace with a Vatican guard; former French President Nicolas Sarkozy looking like a sick vampire; and an Orthodox Jew kissing a Nazi soldier.

The magazine occasionally publishes investigative journalism, taking aim at France’s high and mighty.

Charlie Hebdo has come under pressure ever since its 2011 Muhammad issue. Its website has been hacked, and Charbonnier has needed police protection. Riot police guarded the magazine’s offices after the 2012 issue hit the stands.

One of Charb’s last cartoons, published in this week’s issue, seemed an eerie premonition.

”Still no attacks in France,” an extremist fighter says. ”Wait – we have until the end of January to present our New Year’s wishes.”

Attacked French weekly Charlie Hebdo often lambasted religion, especially Islam

(Reuters) Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newspaper that was victim of a bloody attack on Wednesday claiming at least 12 lives, has never pulled its punches when it came to lambasting religion, especially radical Islam.

From publishing the Danish cartoons of Mohammad that sparked Middle East riots in 2005 to renaming an edition “Sharia Hebdo” and listing Islam’s prophet as its supposed editor-in-chief, the weekly has repeatedly caricatured Muslims and their beliefs.

Politically left-libertarian, it has gleefully fired barbs at other religions, such as the Catholic Church when it was mired in child sex abuse scandals several years ago, and devotes even more space to lampooning politicians on the right and left.

But its attacks on Muslims have caused the most controversy, including a court case on charges of racism and the firebombing of its offices in 2011 after the “Sharia Hebdo” edition. “Hebdo” is French slang for a weekly newspaper.

The weekly has also made fun of the Muslim veil for women and ridiculed Islamist extremists. In the edition publishing the Danish cartoons, its cover had a drawing of Mohammad in tears, saying: “It’s hard to be loved by jerks.”

Hours after the event, police still had no information about the identity of the three attackers. But the widespread assumption in Paris was that they were Muslim extremists punishing the publication for years of criticising their faith.

Police said the weekly had received several threats in recent weeks and had permanent police protection.

“THEY WANT TERROR”

At the scene, Paris imam Hassan Chalgoumi said of the attackers: “We must be firm with them, because they want terror, they want racism, they want to pit people against each other.”

The racism case went to court in 2007, but the plaintiffs — two leading French Muslim groups and the Saudi-backed Muslim World League — stood no chance against the weekly’s defence that France’s freedom of speech and separation of church and state guaranteed its right to criticise any religion.

Because of its relentless criticism of many public figures and institutions, Charlie Hebdo’s often crude — many Muslims would also say cruel — caricatures are seen in France more as free speech rather than far-right anti-Muslim agitation.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was interior minister at the time of the 2007 trial, defended Charlie Hebdo as a newspaper “following an old French tradition, satire.”

Many of its cartoonists started in the 1960s on Hara-Kiri magazine, which openly proclaimed its aim to be “inane and nasty”. It was banned in 1970 after printing a mock death notice for General Charles de Gaulle, only to reappear months later under the name Charlie Hebdo.

Editor Stephane Charbonnier, who according to French media was killed in the attack, told Reuters in 2012 that nobody noticed when the paper ridiculed Catholic traditionalists. “But we are not allowed to make fun of Muslim hardliners. It’s the new rule … but we will not obey it,” he said.

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