Charlie Hebdo front cover: Prophet Mohamed cartoon published in first magazine edition since Paris terror attacks


John Lichfield
Tuesday 13 January 2015 01:00 GMT
Remaining ‘Charlie Hebdo’ staff at work, in the ‘Libération’ offices, two days after last week’s shootings
Remaining ‘Charlie Hebdo’ staff at work, in the ‘Libération’ offices, two days after last week’s shootings (AFP/Getty)

An “international” edition of Charlie Hebdo is set to be published tomorrow and will be ostentatiously blasphemous and ungrateful – biting back at extremist Islam but also at many of its new-found friends.

Libération newspaper, now temporarily housing Charlie Hebdo operations, revealed the front page late last night. The magazine, appearing for the first time since the terrorist massacre at its offices last week, will lampoon radical Islam and publish new cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed, one of which on its front cover.

It will also mock many of the politicians – in France, and around the world – who have championed the stricken magazine as a symbol of democracy and freedom.

In other words, the grieving Charlie Hebdo will remain as scurrilous, anti-religious, anarcho-leftist and offensive as ever. It will refuse to be turned into the sanctified “Charlie” of the “Je suis Charlie” campaign which has encircled the globe in the past six days.

At the same time, the magazine will try to use its sudden fame to repair its perennially disastrous finances. Instead of its normal print run of 40,000, the magazine will publish three million copies in 16 languages, including Arabic.

He said tomorrow’s magazine would include new cartoons mocking radical Islam but also attacks on politicians who have belatedly claimed “Charlie” as their own.

Charlie Hebdo, founded in 1970, has always been fiercely anti-religious, anti-establishment, anti-capitalist and anti-good taste. Although usually described as “satirical”, its humour ranges from gentle mockery to scurrilous aggression.

On several occasions in recent years, the magazine has published special editions lampooning radical Islam, including cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed (who was usually shown to agree with the magazine about the barminess of his more radical followers).

Four of Charlie Hebdo’s best-known cartoonists, six other employees or visitors and two policemen were killed when the Kouachi brothers, self-proclaimed “avengers of the Prophet”, attacked the magazine’s offices in Paris last Wednesday. The “Je suis Charlie” movement began when the slogan was posted on the magazine’s own website a few hours after the massacre.

The emergence of global legions of self-proclaimed “Charlies” – including centre-right politicians in France and right-wing or repressive foreign leaders that the magazine detests – has angered some of Charlie Hebdo’s surviving cartoonists.

Willem (real name Bernard Holtrop), a 73-year-old Dutch cartoonist long based in France, said at the weekend that he wanted to “throw up on all those who suddenly say that they are our friends”. He went on to reel off a list of unwanted “Charlies” ranging from the Queen to Vladimir Putin, the Pope and the far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders. A Charlie Hebdo columnist, Iegor Gran, went further. He said that he hated the idea of the magazine becoming a short-hand term for Western democratic values.

“Charlie has become a symbol,” he said. “But Charlie has always been anti-symbol. It has always mocked people who exploited symbols.”

Another cartoonist, Luz (Renald Luzier) said: “It is not easy to be supported by idiots such as Angela Merkel.”

The surviving members of the Charlie team were especially angry that politicians not usually known for their defence of “freedom” – from the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – joined the march “against hatred” in Paris on Sunday. They considered making large, unflattering caricatures of visiting dignitaries that they disliked and carrying them on the march. Only pressure of time prevented it, Luz said.

The scurrilous honour, and irreverent spirit, of Charlie Hebdo was saved by a pigeon. Just as President François Hollande came over to salute the magazine’s survivors and the relatives of those who had died, a small, discreet, white bird dropping fell on the shoulder of his blue suit.

“It did us the world of good,” said the cartoonist, Jul (Julien Berjeaut). “We all paid homage to the President, saying ‘He’s unbeatable this Hollande. He even made us sick with laughter on a day like this.”

Charlie Hebdo’s attempt to refuse international martyrdom misses the point. Many of the people at the Paris demonstration admitted that they disliked and had never bought the magazine. “It always seemed to me predictable and stuck somewhere in the 1960s or 1970s,” said David, a lawyer. “It is sometimes funny but it often resorts to nastiness and scatology instead of wit.”

Like many other people, however, David said he absolutely supported Charlie Hebdo’s right to exist and provoke and push out boundaries as a kind of “advance guard” of the more mainstream press’s freedoms.

Some Charlie Hebdo survivors accept this point. Not all are distressed by the fact that most of the world now claims – Spartacus-like – to be “Charlie”.

Patrick Pelloux, a doctor who writes a weekly column for the magazine and was one of the first people to reach the scene of the massacre, said: “The warmth of all these people, coming together calmly to defend freedom of expression, must be the beginning of something new.”

The unidentified wife of one of the dead cartoonists told Le Monde: “It was surreal to see all of these people supporting us. It was beautiful and strange. Who has managed to unite so many world leaders around a symbol? Only Nelson Mandela and Charlie.”

That won’t stop Charlie Hebdo biting the hands that defied it tomorrow.

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