Last night, masked gunmen stormed the office of satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The gunmen murdered 12 people and left 11 others injured. Why?
This is a closer look at some of these issues, to explain some background and to try and find some order in the way the world is responding.
Please note: this post includes some of the controversial covers that have caused some distress in the French Muslim community.
1. What is Charlie Hebdo magazine and what did it do?
Charlie Hebdo is a satirical left-wing French weekly magazine that pokes fun at religious figures, politicians and celebrities. Hebdo is short for ‘hebdomadaire’, which means ‘weekly’. Charlie is a reference to Peanuts character, Charlie Brown (and maybe a cheeky wink at former French President, Charles de Gaulle).
Charlie Hebdo was first published in 1969, then closed in the 1980s, before restarting in 1992.
The magazine is famous for its caricatures of public figures. Fiercely political and anti-religion, the images are over-blown, provocative and satirical.
No public figure or religion is safe: Police have been shown holding the dripping heads of immigrants; there have been masturbating nuns, popes wearing condoms and jokes about dead presidents – anything to make a point. Just last month, an edition featured a cartoon of the Virgin Mary, spread-eagled, giving birth to Jesus. The last tweet sent by Charlie Hebdo before the shooting was a cartoon of Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, issuing a New Year greeting.
These off-colour images are designed to make people laugh and think. Editor, Stéphane Charbonnier (who is reported to have died in the attacks last night), told Der Spiegel: “My job is to provoke laughter or thinking with drawings — for the readers of our magazine.”
2. What did Charlie Hebdo publish that upset extremists?
Charlie Hebdo has a long history of mocking religions, including Islam. “The aim is to laugh,” Charlie Hebdo journalist, Laurent Léger has said. “We want to laugh at the extremists — every extremist. They can be Muslim, Jewish, Catholic. Everyone can be religious, but extremist thoughts and acts we cannot accept.”
As part of Islamic tradition, there is a taboo against drawing or publishing images of the Prophet Mohammed. And Charlie Hebdo has repeatedly done just that.
In 2006, they republished drawings of Mohammed first published by a Danish paper. The cover of Charlie Hebdo for that edition was an image of a crying Mohammed saying “It’s hard being loved by jerks”.
In 2011, the office of Charlie Hebdo was fire-bombed and destroyed the day after the magazine announced the Prophet Mohammed would be its “editor in chief” for its next issue. That edition featured a front-page cartoon of the Prophet with the words “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter”.