The French magazine Charlie Hebdo, targeted on Wednesday by Muslim gunmen, has a long history of mocking religions, including Islam.
Its most recent cover joked about author Michel Houellebecq’s new novel “Submission,” which speculates about a future in which France elects a Muslim president. Since its release, many have called “Submission” Islamophobic, though Houellebecq has said that “an alliance between Catholics and Muslims is possible,” and that “jihadists are bad Muslims.”
The magazine also posted a cartoon of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to its Twitter feed earlier today.
Last year, Islamic groups tried to sue the magazine for blasphemy over a cover depicting its caption, “[the Qur’an] doesn’t stop bullets.” Its website was also hacked in 2012 and its offices firebombed in 2011, both over deliberately shocking material about Islam’s prophet, Muhammad.
The magazine has also been critical of France’s Catholic-aligned political right, often expressed through parodies of Jesus, Mary, the pope and other Catholic figures. Last week’s cover promised “The True Story of Baby Jesus,” based on infancy narratives from outside the Biblical canon. In the cartoon, the holy infant appears in a flash between the legs of his mother, spread apart as if in gynecologist’s stirrups.
One of the cartoonists killed on Wednesday, known professionally as “Charb,” had said that the magazine’s goal was to make “Islam as banal as Catholicism,” so it is acceptable to scrutinize and ridicule it.
Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier) had been under police protection ever since appearing on a “wanted” list in Inspire, the digital magazine of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. He was famously quoted during the 2012 controversy as saying “I would rather die standing than live kneeling.” Besides Charb, three other cartoonists were reportedly killed in Wednesday’s attack.
Most interpretations of Islam prohibit any depiction of Muhammad, and many Muslim-majority countries have laws against “defamation of religion.” European countries with significant Muslim populations have had vigorous debates about civil liberties and security in recent years.
Records estimate that between 5 and 10 percent of France’s population is Muslim, while the rate in the United States is under 1 percent.
The shooters shouted “Allahu akbar” and “The prophet is avenged” while carrying out their attack. Terror analysts also noted that they made a one-finger hand gesture, signifying Islam’s emphasis of God’s oneness, that is often featured in propaganda videos of the Islamic State terror group.
In the videos, the men looked calm and poised, not firing any unnecessary shots, showing that they were well-trained for the attack. This contrasts with the disorganized, often improvisational style of recent Islamist attacks in the West, such as the hostage incident in Sydney, Australia last month.
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