Charlie Hebdo Attack: The Prophet Muhammad Cartoons That May Have Caused Paris Magazine Massacre

Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical magazine that publishes cartoons mocking various religions and politicians including Islam, Jews, Catholics and French politicians. Because of its satirical depiction of Prophet Muhammad, the magazine’s Paris offices were attacked by two brothers belonging to the Al-Qaeda terrorist group on January 7, 2015 (Silva, 2015); with 12 people in the offices losing their lives and a further 11 injured. These included four cartoonists and several managers. There were further related attacks in the Île-de-France region that led to five more deaths and 11 wounded before the terrorists were finally shot dead by police on January 9.

Notably, the cartoons published by the magazine had been irking Muslims worldwide with the publication being sued by various Muslim organizations and also receiving threats from various Muslim extremists on social media. The French Council for the Muslim Faith had sued Charlie Hebdo in 2006 because of the magazine’s 12 caricatures of Prophet Muhammad that included a sobbing Prophet Muhammad on  the cover under the heading “Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists”. Before the court ruling, the magazine had published another cartoon of the prophet in 2007 under the headline “Charlie Hebdo must be veiled”, for which the paper was also sued. A Paris court ruled the law suits filed by the two Muslim organizations in favor of Charlie Hebdo (Talbl, 2015).

In 2011, Charlie Hebdo published an Arab Spring special edition that had a cover cartoon of Prophet Muhammad as “guest editor”. This led to the magazine’s offices being petrol bombed. Later the same year, the magazine depicted Prophet Muhammad as gay, leading to the company’s website being hacked. The magazine later published a cartoon of the prophet being beheaded by an Islamist extremist (Talbl, 2015).

Because of the magazine’s cartoons about the prophet and the subsequent terrorism threat potential, France temporarily closed its embassies and schools in over 20 countries in 2012. The director of Charlie Hebdo, Stéphane Charbonnier, had consequently defended the magazine’s publishing policy as exercising freedom of expression to “comment on the news in a satirical way” but “not really fueling the fire” (Silva, 2015).

Following the Charlie Hebdo attack, France raised its terror threat level, a situation that has remained to date. Notably, the country has suffered subsequent terrorist attacks, with the latest being an attack on Nice holidaymakers by a lorry driver.

During colonialism, France had an assimilation policy with many people from other parts of the world becoming French citizens. Consequently, the country has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe of nearly 5 million people, with various terrorist cells finding a home to plan and carry out their nefarious activities (Silva, 2015). These cells have been responsible for the various terrorist attacks. Noteworthy is that most French Muslims peacefully coexist with the rest of the population, despite the attacks and isolated cases of recurring tensions. However, these attacks and tensions led to the country banning wearing of Islamic veils in 2011 as well as banning of wearing the bikini on French beaches.

Following the Charlie Hebdo attack, there was a national unity rally in Paris on January 11 attended by about two million people that included more than 40 world leaders, with a further 3.7 million joining the demonstrations across France; with the rallying slogan “Je suis Charlie”. Charlie Hebdo continued to be published, with the consequent issue printing nearly 8 million copies in six languages as opposed to the usual print run of 60,000 that is published in French.

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