Charlie Hebdo was targeted because magazine never shied from attacking Islamic fundamentalism

January 8, 2015 4:22 am

They never shied away from the most controversial of topics. From the
death of Charles de Gaulle to the birth of Islamic extremism, the
journalists of France’s foremost satirical magazine have endured a
turbulent history.
Founded in 1969 as Hara-Kiri Hebdo, the weekly
publication quickly attracted – and eventually adopted as its official
slogan – accusations of being “dumb and nasty”.
The founding
editors, humorist Georges Bernier and François Cavanna, enjoyed their
first fracas with the establishment in November 1970, joking about the
death of a former French president.
Charles de Gaulle died at
home in the village of Colombey-les-Deux-Églises aged 79, a week after a
nightclub fire in south-eastern France killed 146 people.

2012 file photo of Charb, the publishing director of the satyric weekly
, displays the front page of the newspaper as he poses for
photographers in Paris. Photo / AP

“Tragic Ball at Colombey, one dead” was the magazine’s
headline. The country’s interior minister swiftly banned Hara-Kiri
Hebdo, forcing the group to change their name.

Taking
inspiration from a monthly comics magazine produced by two of the team
and in homage to Charlie Brown of Peanuts, Charlie Hebdo was born the
following week.
In the decade that followed, the founding group
stumbled on while struggling to find an audience. Until, in 1981,
reportedly due to a lack of readers, the magazine was closed.
It
reemerged in 1991 under the control of Philippe Val, a French comedian
and journalist who would edit the publication for 17 years.
During
that time the magazine would become famous for another controversy; its
full-throated opposition to religious fundamentalism and restrictions
on freedom of speech.
It started in February 2006, in the midst
of a global row about the publication of images of the Prophet Muhammed
sketched by a Danish cartoonist.
Under the title “Muhammed
overwhelmed by fundamentalists”, Charlie Hebdo printed a front-page
cartoon of the Islamic figure weeping and saying, “it’s hard being loved
by jerks”.
Inside, they reproduced 12 of the controversial Danish cartoons and added more of their own design.
The
magazine tripled its usual sales and the politicians whose predecessors
had once forced Hebdo to close came rushing to its defence.
(With
the exception of then French President Jacques Chirac, who said:
“Anything that can hurt the convictions of someone else, in particular
religious convictions, should be avoided.”)
Six months later, in February 2007, several Muslim groups took Charlie Hebdo to court for publicly “insulting” Islam.
Philippe
Val described the trial as a “witch hunt” and Francois Hollande, then
Socialist party secretary and current President of France, testified in
favour of freedom of expression.
The magazine was ultimately
cleared of “racial insults” for publishing the cartoons and a court
ruling upheld Mr Val’s right to satire Islamic extremism.
Four
years later, after little further incitement from Hebdo, its offices
were burned in an apparent arson attack on the day after it published an
issue with the Prophet Mohammed as its “editor-in-chief”.
He was depicted on the front page saying: “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter”.
The
magazine was forced to move office from 20th arrondissement to Rue
Serpollet, where on Wednesday 10 Hebdo journalists – including Charb,
Val’s successor – were killed.
But Islam was not alone in
attracting Hebdo’s derision. 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.
Yet the attack has inspired unanimous backing for the magazine’s right to free expression from the very people it lampooned.
Vatican officials said the assault had targeted not just the magazine’s journalists but the liberty of the press in general.
Mr
Hollande said: “This is an act of exceptional barbarity […] against
freedom of expression, against journalists who always wanted to show
thay they could act in France to defend their ideas and specifically to
have this freedom that the French republic protects.”
UK Prime Minister David Cameron said: “We stand squarely for free speech and democracy.”
This
is an intolerable act, an act of barbarism which challenges us all as
humans and Europeans,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
said.
“It is an attack on freedom of expression and the press – a
key component of our free democratic culture – which cannot be
justified,” said Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor.

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