Posted: 9 January 2015
Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité – Freedom, Equality, Fraternity. In the attack upon the satirical Parisian magazine Charlie Hebdo, which left ten staff and two police officers dead, it is evident that the somewhat noble motto of the republic of France was utterly disgraced. Disgraced by the gunmen who ended those lives, and disgraced by the magazine staff who used their talents to publish a weekly journal of ridicule and mockery.
Charlie Hebdo is no stranger to controversy. The magazine began in 1960 as Hara-Kiri and soon took on the slogan ‘mean and nasty’ which came directly from an early reader’s complaint letter. The magazine was temporarily banned by the French government in 1961 and 1966. In 1970 the magazine was banned again for mocking the death of former French President Charles de Gaulle, but this time it took on a new name to save itself – Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly). Charlie Hedbo has a relatively low weekly circulation, but is well known for its provocative cartoons, and it was five of those cartoonists who were executed in the killings.
The magazine is extremely left-wing in its opinion and completely anti-institution. It mocks politicians, culture, and authority figures but it has found a special passion for mocking religion – particularly Christianity and Islam. Their cartoons have shown nuns masturbating and popes wearing condoms. They drew the Prophet Muhammad in pornographic poses and saw fit to refer to Muslims as “jerks”. Over the years they have had a range of lawsuits filed against them. In 2011 they created a specifically provocative edition about the Prophet Mohammed and their offices were subsequently firebombed. In 2012 they were asked by the French Police to remain silent while a film against Islam instigated worldwide riots; Charlie Hedbo decided to publish inflammatory cartoons anyway. Last Christmas, Charlie Hedbo created an edition featuring a cartoon of the Virgin Mary, legs wide open, giving birth to Jesus. The editor Stephane Charbonnier, who was also killed in the attack, once stated that his magazine would continue its style “until Islam is just as banal as Catholicism.”