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Why was Charlie Hebdo attacked?


Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine has been attacked by at least two gunmen, who have killed 12 people at its Paris offices.

It is the worst attack on a magazine which has been hit by violence before.

In 2006, many Muslims were angered by Charlie Hebdo‘s reprinting of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. They had originally appeared in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten.

Charlie Hebdo‘s offices were fire-bombed in November 2011 when it published a cartoon of Muhammad under the title Charia Hebdo.

One of the latest tweets on Charlie Hebdo‘s feed was a cartoon of the ISIS militant group leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The editor, Stephane Charbonnier, had been under police protection, having received death threats. He and three other cartoonists were among those killed by the gunmen in the massacre on January 7.

Charlie Hebdo is part of a venerable tradition in French journalism going back to the scandal sheets that denounced Marie-Antoinette in the run-up to the French Revolution.

Back in the 18th Century, the target was the royal family, and the rumor-mongers wrought havoc with tales – often illustrated – of corruption at the court at Versailles.Charlie Hebdo shooting 2015

Nowadays there are new dragons to slay: politicians, the police, bankers and religion. Satire, rather than outright fabrication, is the weapon of choice.

Same spirit of insolence that once took on the ancient regime – part ribaldry, part political self-promotion – is still very much on the scene.

Charlie Hebdo is a prime exponent. Its decision to mock the Prophet Muhammad is entirely consistent with its historic raison d’etre.

The weekly magazine has never sold in enormous numbers – and for 10 years from 1981, it ceased publication for lack of resources.

With its garish front-page cartoons and incendiary headlines, it is an unmissable staple of newspaper kiosks and railway station booksellers.

Drawing on France’s strong tradition of bandes dessinees (comic strips), cartoons and caricatures are Charlie Hebdo‘s defining feature. Over the years, it has printed examples which make its representations of Muhammad look like mild illustrations from a children’s book.

As a newspaper, Charlie Hebdo suffers from constant comparison with its better-known and more successful rival, Le Canard Enchaine.

Both are animated by the same urge to challenge the powers-that-be.

If Le Canard is all about scoops and unreported secrets, Charlie is both cruder and crueller – deploying a mix of cartoons and an often vicious polemical wit.

True to its position on the far left of French politics, Charlie Hebdo‘s past is full of splits and ideological betrayals.

One long-standing editor resigned after a row about anti-Semitism.

Most of the staff – cartoonists and writers alike – go by single-name noms de plume.

Before Wednesday’s attack the team was led by Stephane Charbonnier – known as Charb – and another cartoonist called Riss (Laurent Sourisseau). But everyone knows their real names.

The paper’s origins lie in another satirical publication called Hara-Kiri which made a name for itself in the 1960s.

In 1970, came the famous moment of Charlie Hebdo‘s creation. Two dramatic events were dominating the news: a terrible fire at a discotheque which killed more than 100 people; and the death of former President General Charles de Gaulle.

Hara-Kiri led its edition with a headline mocking the General’s death: “Bal tragique a Colombey – un mort”, meaning “Tragic dance at Colombey [de Gaulle’s home] – one dead.”

The subsequent scandal led to Hara-Kiri being banned. To which its journalists promptly responded by setting up a new weekly – Charlie Hebdo.

Charlie Hebdo was not an irreverent reference to Charles de Gaulle, but to the fact that originally it also re-printed the Charlie Brown cartoon from the United States.

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