French Satirical Magazine Charlie Hebdo Often Mocked Religion

Charlie Hebdo
A member of the media takes an images of the front page of Charlie Hebdo which shows a caricature of French author Michel Houellebecq near the scene of the shooting. Jacky Naegelen/Reuters

Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine whose headquarters were targeted by gunmen in a terrorist attack today in which 12 people were killed, 10 of them journalists, has a history of lampooning all-comers, particularly religious figures, including the Prophet Muhammed.

The magazine has been likened to the British satirical publication Private Eye, and is famous for taking left-wing radicalism to the extreme, frequently publishing articles and cartoons that mock the far-right and religion.

Born in 1969 out of the controversial publication Hara-Kiri - which was banned in 1970 after it crudely mocked the death of former president Gen Charles de Gaulle - the weekly magazine’s defining features are cartoons and caricatures that poke fun at prominent figures and ideas.

According to Hugh Schofield from the BBC, Charlie Hebdo builds on a long-standing tradition in French journalism which can be dated as far back as the French Revolution, but instead of targeting the sexual antics and corruption of the royal family, the magazine aims to challenge the powers-that-be in a more satirical way, with cartoons of popes wearing condoms and male cartoonists passionately kissing Muslim men.

The publication’s publication of a series of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad - depictions of whom are banned in Islam - have sparked the most controversy. In 2006 many Muslims voiced their anger over the magazine’s reprinting of drawings mocking the Prophet Mohammed, originally printed in a Danish daily, Jyllands-Posten.

In 2011 Charlie Hebdo’s offices were firebombed following the publication of a cartoon of Muhammad under the title ‘Sharia Weekly’. Across the cartoon was the slogan “'100 lashes if you don't die laughing” and on the back was a picture of Muhammed with a red nose and the words, 'Yes, Islam is compatible with humour'. No one was hurt in the fire.

The magazine’s website was also hacked after the attack, and a photo of the Grand Mosque in Mecca put up in place of the main homepage, with the words “No god but Allah”.

In 2012, another series of cartoons poking fun at Muhammad, which including naked drawings of him, led the French government to close embassies and schools in over 20 countries.

Following the incident, the magazine’s editor Stephane Carbonnier – who hired bodyguards after receiving a series of death threats -  told the news channel iTELE: “We do caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, and when we do it with the Prophet, it’s called provocation.”

This week, Charlie Hedbo’s cover featured a cartoon of the controversial novel published today by Michael Houellebecq called Submission, in which it is predicted that in 2022 the leader of an imagined conservative Muslim party will have beaten the far-right Front National in the presidential election. In the book, women are forced to leave work and abandon Western dress and polygamy is reintroduced.

Speaking about the book, Alain Jakubovitch, president of the anti-racism group LICRA, said: "This is the best Christmas present [Front National leader] Marine Le Pen could wish for."

The hashtag #JeSuisCharlie was trending around the world on Twitter on Wednesday in a show of solidarity with the magazine and those killed and injured in the attack.