France: Satirical Magazine's Office Burnt Down After Mocking Sharia

[All links in are in French unless otherwise indicated]

During the night of November 2, 2011, the Paris head office of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo was attacked with petrol bombs [en] and burnt down. The long established and always provocative French weekly had published a satirical ‘Sharia Weekly’ on current events in Tunisia and Libya on the same day, featuring the Muslim Prophet Muhammed as its ‘guest editor’, with this tagline: “Sharia weekly: 100 whip flogs if you do not die from laughter”.

"And now, on top of Greece, I have to save Charlie" - French daily Liberation cover, drawn by Charlie Hebdo cartoonists - November 3, 2011.

"And now, on top of Greece, I have to save Charlie" – French daily Liberation cover, drawn by Charlie Hebdo cartoonists – November 3, 2011.

On day two after the blaze and with no conclusion yet from police investigations, French media, political circles, and social networks are also on fire. Newsstands are out of stock of the latest magazine issue. On Twitter, the hashtag #charliehebdo is the top French Trending Topic since news broke yesterday morning. Some Twitter users have chosen to adopt the controversial cover as their Twitter profile pic. Charlie Hebdo, now operating from the offices of French daily Libération produced the cover of their host paper under heavy security.

Charlie Hebdo's website was also attacked during the night of the fire by Turkish group “Akincilar”, according to Le Nouvel Obs (see message sent to this weekly, in English). Tech blogger Korben has posted screen captures of the defaced website:

Defaced Charlie Hebdo website
Defaced Charlie Hebdo website

Defaced Charlie Hebdo website

This is not Charlie Hebdo's first brush with the issue of satire and Islam. In 2007, the magazine was sued by the imam of the Paris mosque for a cover featuring prophet Muhammad with the caption ‘It is hard to be loved by morons‘ and for republishing the notorious Danish satirical cartoons [en] as a token of editorial solidarity. The publication won the case. Yesterday, the current imam of the Paris mosque has condemned both the attack and the caricature.

Secular France is yet again in the throes of a conflict between freedom of satire (and speech) versus respect for religion, all the time in a sensitive context: during the run-up to the 2012 French presidential election.

Freedom of expression

The news caused massive reactions in France.  Many argued that this attack is an intolerable affront against freedom of expression.

Hacen BOUKHELIFA, a lawyer based in Marseille, France, condems the attack:

Rien, absolument rien ne peut justifier la violence d'extrémistes qui finalement n'acceptent pas la liberté d'expression à fortiori lorsqu'elle est exercée par un hebdomadaire satirique

Nothing, absolutely nothing can justify the violence exerted by these extremists who seem unable to accept freedom of expression, especially when it comes from a satirical weekly newspaper

Capiaux Alain continues:

CHARLIE HEBDO mérite le soutien de quiconque entend défendre la liberté d'expression. Critiquer l'islam est un droit.

Charlie Hebdo deserves the support of anyone who cherishes freedom of expression. It is within anyone's rights to criticize Islam.

But according to others, like Sidi_la, a double standard of freedom of expression is applied in France. Referring to Dieudonné Mballa, a French humorist sued and condemned for his alleged anti-Semitism, he writes:

On donne la liberté d'expression quand il s'agit d'Islam mais quand Dieudo parle des juif il doit en payer le prix!= La France

One gives freedom of expression when it comes to Islam, but when Dieudo talks about jews he has to pay the price! = France
Catholic manifesto on the walls of Paris "Let's defend Jesus Christ!" - by @egoflux on Twitter

Catholic manifesto on the walls of Paris "Let's defend Jesus Christ!" – by @egoflux on Twitter

Tristan (@egoflux), along with other watchdogs of sectarism, reminds that demonstrations organized by French Catholic fundamentalists are currently disrupting a theatre play in Paris in which the face of Jesus Christ is defaced. He posts the picture of their manifesto pasted on Paris walls:

Xavier (@dascritch) has had enough:

Y'en a marre des intégristes religieux. Cathos, Juifs ou Islamistes, vous ne représentez que l'ignorance, la haine et la mort.

Enough with religious fundamentalists. Catholic, Jewish or Islamists, you only represent ignorance, hate and death.

A boost to the extreme right

Political hopefuls for the 2012 French presidential elections have flocked to the support of Charlie Hebdo. Severin predicts that this incident will benefit solely the extreme right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen:

#charliehebdo brûle, Marine Le Pen gagne 3 points dans le dernier sondage. Symbolique d'une société à la dérive. #irresponsable

#charliehebdo ablaze, Marine le Pen goes up three points in the latest polls. Symbolic of a society cast adrift. #irresponsible
 "Charlie (Hebdo) boosting the Right"- by @elpasolibre on Twitter

"Charlie (Hebdo) boosting the Right"- by @elpasolibre on Twitter

Havoc on Facebook

The Charlie Hebo Facebook page has been flooded with messages.

Mehri Yassine from Tunis left:

شهد أن لا إله إلا الله وأشهد أن محمد رسول الله

I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah

Virgile Gaillard bitterly comments:

merci Charlie!! :( Grâce à vous, on détourne l'attention sur les vrais enjeux de la crise… On met de l'huile sur le feu de la haine de l'autre, on stigmatise le musulman parce que bcq vont être tenté par l'amalgame intégristes=musulmans

Thank you Charlie ! :( Thanks to you the attention is diverted from the real stakes of the crisis… one fuels one's hatred against the other, one stigmatises the muslim, because many will be tempted by the hotchpotch fundamentalist = muslim

Erick Oster Saerkjaer, from Denmark, where the first controversy about “Muhammad cartoons” erupted in 2005, has posted a support message in English:

Humor is the way to ask the critical questions to those who believe they have found the one and only truth. If we can't do that, stupidity will win.

Charlie Hebdo has now requested Facebook to lock the page, as many of those messages infringe French laws against incitement to ethnic or religious hatred. Netizens on Twitter have commiserated with the community manager of the Facebook page; Lauren Provost imagined the type of vacancy Charlie Hebdo could now advertise:

Charlie Hebdo cherche Community Manager. Compétence requise : gestion de crise et maîtrise de l'arabe

Charlie Hebdo looking for a community manager. Mandatory skills: crisis management and Arabic spoken
Further reading

Index on censorship has published two views of the Charlie Hebdo crisis, providing insights from  two academics  in the United States and in UK.

Note: This post has been co-written by Julie Owono and Claire Ulrich.

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