Who is Charlie Hedbo?

Charlie Hebdo is a French weekly newspaper that revels in shock and offense.

In 1970, the magazine Hara-Kiri Hebdo was banned by the French government for an article mocking both the death of former president Charles de Gaulle and a fire that killed 146 citizens. It ducked the ban by changing its name, and from this controversy Charlie Hebdo was born.

Since its birth it has been churning out publications that are satirical and iconoclastic, scrappy and irreverent, and sometimes tasteless and offensive, some of which have boiled up into big news events. In 2006 they were heavily criticized for reprinting controversial Dutch caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. In 2011 they were firebombed after printing an edition “guest-edited” by Muhammad. In 2012 they printed a series of Islam-related cartoons, including several of Muhammad nude and in pornographic and submissive poses. But all of these events pale in comparison to the act of terrorism from which the ears of the world are still ringing.

On Wednesday morning, January 7th, 2015, two men, obscured in black clothing and carrying kalashnikov rifles stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo during an editorial meeting and fatally shot 11 staff members and a Muslim police officer who was stationed on the street. They were heard to have shouted “We have avenged the prophet Muhammad. We have killed Charlie Hebdo.” The two men, later identified as French citizens Cherif and Said Kouachi, escaped and were free until two days later, when they were tracked to a warehouse and killed by police. The same day, accomplice Amedy Coulibaly held people hostage at a Kosher supermarket in eastern Paris. Police stormed the market, killing Coulibaly, and rescuing 15 hostages, but 4 more were found dead.

Gambino, left, at a Charlie Hebdo protest in Paris.  Source: facebook.com
Gambino, left, at a Charlie Hebdo protest in Paris.
Source: facebook.com

The response to the events was great, and immediate. Within hours of the initial attack, the phrase “Je suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie” began to spread across twitter, and soon became a tagline of international solidarity and a focal point of demonstrations in support of Charlie Hebdo, and of the freedom of speech. President François Hollande held a minute of silence at noon, a day of mourning, and held flags at half mast for three days. This was not a random attack, but a specific, horrific punishment of Charlie Hebdo for publishing its cartoons, and so the event became not only a great tragedy and an act of terrorism but an assault on the freedom of speech and secularism that France holds so dearly. “We should be able to laugh at anything we want,” said Ms. Bezine. “Sarcasm is very imbedded in the French culture and this attack was an attack on the root of French culture. Different voices, even offensive ones make the world a very different place. Je Suis Charlie” A more closely personal response came from Grégoire Gambino, one of the French students who visited SLV just last year.“[The attack] took place just near my school, at the end of my street. […] We couldn’t believe that an attack could take place 300 or 4000 meters from where we were. […] You know, we always think we’re safe, that attacks happen only in different countries or different cities, but when it happens near you, it’s horrible.” When I asked him about his opinions on Charlie Hebdo, he said “To me, the question isn’t here; you don’t have to agree something to defend it. As Voltaire said, “Je ne suis pas d’accord avec ce que vous dites, mais je me battrais jusqu’à la mort pour que vous ayez le droit de le dire” — “I do not agree with what you say but I would fight to the death for your right to say it.”

The next Friday, the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo awarded Charlie Hebdo honorary citizenship, celebrating “the most iconic defenders of human rights around the world to honour great resistance against dictatorship and barbarism.” The following Sunday, France held an anti-terrorism rally in their honor and the turnout reached 1.7 million, including Grégoire and most of his friends and teachers. It was the largest rally in France’s history, surpassing in size even the gathering when France was freed from Nazi Germany in WWII. And how does Charlie Hebdo feel about this new-found fame and reverence? “A huge symbolic weight, that doesn’t exist in our cartoons and is somewhat beyond us, has been put on our shoulders,” says Luz in an interview with Les in Rocks. He is a long time cartoonist whose life was saved when he showed up late to the editorial meeting because it was his birthday.

“Charb [former editor, victim of terrorist attack] believed we could continue to overcome taboos and symbols. But today, we are the symbol. How can you destroy a symbol when it is yourself?” “I won’t find the answer this week and I’m not sure I ever will. We will publish Charlie. I’m going to force myself. I’m going to think about my dead friends, knowing they didn’t fall for France! Today, it seems that Charlie fell for the freedom of speech. The simple fact is that our friends died. The friends we loved and whose talent we admired so very much.” The terrorists were wrong: they did not kill Charlie Hebdo. The remaining members are set up in the headquarters of Libération news, working on the latest edition. Luz has drawn the new cover. Spoiler: it has a caricature of Muhammad on it. He’s holding an “I am Charlie” sign, and the caption reads “All is forgiven.”

Rest in peace Stéphane Charbonnier, Elsa Cayat, Georges Wolinski, Bernard Maris, Bernard Verlhac, Ahmed Merabet, Philippe Honoré, Frédéric Boisseau, Jean Cabut, Mustapha Ourrad, Michel Renaud, Franck Brinsolaro. Rest in peace Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, and Clarissa Jean-Philippe. Rest in peace Said Kouachi, Cherif Kouachi, and Amedy Coulibaly.

-Ben Hofvendahl

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