-Article by Alice Ferré
On January 7, 2015, Islamist extremists Saïd and Chérif Kouachi attacked French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo‘s offices in Paris, sweeping away nine members of its team. Motives of their grudge were numerous publications of satirical drawings of Prophet Mohammed. In the aftermath, on January 11, two million people, including more than 40 world leaders, met in Paris for a rally of national unity. 3.7 million people joined demonstrations across France.
The “Je Suis Charlie” phrase became an anthem for freedom of expression worldwide, and the newspaper received spectacular support from the international press. Wolinski, Charb, Tignous, Cabu, Elsa and Honoré became martyrs in the war against religious extremism.
This attack also debuted a series of others, spreading feelings of fear and helplessness across the country: the Hyper Casher, the Thalys train, the November, and the Bastille Day attacks, the Magnanville stabbing, and the Saint-Etienne du Rouvray church attack – amongst many other less mediated ones, in only two years.
Before this ongoing wave of terrorism, how could we make a fresh start without forgetting?
Some would argue Charlie Hebdo itself is an example of this demeanor. Indeed, the periodical did not lose its spirits and stands strong, not going backward in going forward. The newspaper answered the attacks with a cover of teary-eyed Mohammed holding a “Je Suis Charlie” sign. The text above read “All is forgiven.” Charlie chose to fight back with its best weapons: cynicism and dark, crude humor.
It kept on this trend: the newspaper had published, in 2015, another controversial cartoon about the young child refugee Aylan Kurdi who drowned while fleeing Syria. A McDonald’s advert is next to him, with the caption “So close…” A second cartoon had for note: “Christians walk on water, Muslim children sink.”
In September 2016, Charlie had honored its reputation with a cartoon describing victims of Italy earthquake as Italian dishes – which sparked anger on social media. “Good taste has boundaries.” “All I would like to say is if Charlie Hebdo was bombed again I shall not be participating in the status ‘Je Suis Charlie’.”
Charlie has always been controversial, even when the victim of events was Charlie itself. On May 5, 2015, the periodical received the ‘Courage and Freedom of Expression Prize’ from the Pen Club International; but international recognition after the attacks was mixed. While six American authors boycotted the ceremony and launched a petition signed by 240 authors against the awarding, author Salman Rushdie strongly reacted to this petition.
Interpretations of this backlash against Charlie once again showed discord: a “moral and intellectual self-immolation of the American intelligentsia,” for Russian-American writer Vladislav Davidzon, or an understandable act as “this prize magnifies an offensive content that only exacerbates anti-Islamist feelings,” claimed French newspaper Marianne.
On the other hand, some would argue that the newspaper is the mere shadow of what it was before the attacks. Parting journalist Zineb El Rhazoui considers it “has gone soft” on Islamist extremists. “Charlie Hebdo died on January 7,” El Rhazoui said to the AFP. She claimed that stopping Prophet Mohammed’s caricature equalled to surrendering and bowing in front of the enemy.
Contrarily, reporter Laurent Léger, who survived the attack but has been on long-term sick leave, told Agence France Press “Charlie should have stopped after we did the survivors’ issue after the attack.” He added that “the price has been too heavy to pay for the journalists and for normal human beings.”
Nevertheless, frowns and sermons were – and will remain – the newspaper’s trademarked reactions. The cover of this week’s Charlie Hebdo claims “2017, finally the end of the tunnel,” the tunnel representing the barrel of a gun, held by a bearded man.
For the two-year anniversary of the attacks, Libération paid tribute to the newspaper with a Charlie-style satirical cover depicting President Vladimir Putin, a neo-nazi, a cardinal, a jihadist, and a vulture, all saying “Zut.”; they are not all so happy that the newspaper is still thriving.
Charlie Hebdo is a punch in the face….
Against those who try to stop us thinking.
Against those who fear imagination.
Against those who don’t like us to laugh.