The editor of Charlie Hebdo believes the world has become less tolerant of the French satirical newspaper’s black humor but he staunchly defends the right to offend, two years after jihadist gunmen killed many of its staff.
Charlie Hebdo marked the grim anniversary in typical style with a front-cover cartoon showing a laughing man staring down the barrel of a jihadist’s AK-47 rifle with the caption: “2017, at last, the light at the end of the tunnel.”
On Jan. 7, 2015, in an attack that tore the heart out of the paper, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi forced their way into the low-key Paris office building where it was based and killed 11 people, including star cartoonists Cabu, Charb, Wolinski and Tignous.
The slogan “Je Suis Charlie” was quickly picked up as an estimated one million people marched in a mass outpouring of solidarity in Paris, and it soon became a rallying cry for freedom of expression around the world.
The newspaper had long been a target for Islamic extremists because it was one of a handful of European publications that printed cartoons of Islam’s Prophet.
Riss, the man who took over from Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier as editor following the attack, now wonders how much support he would get if he repeated that controversial move now.
“We get the impression that people have become even more intolerant of Charlie,” he told AFP. “If we did a front cover showing a cartoon of [Islam’s] Prophet now, who would defend us?”
Riss, whose real name is Laurent Sourisseau, said the number of threats received by the staff was increasing. “Before they told us to be careful of Islamists. Now we must look out for Islamists, Russians and Turks,” he said.
That was partly a reference to a protest from Russian President Vladimir Putin over a cartoon Charlie Hebdo published in December after dozens of members of a Red Army choir were killed in a plane crash. It showed a choir member in uniform singing the wailing sound “AAAAA” as the plane plunges, under the title: “The Red Army choir’s repertoire is expanding.”
The anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo murders was marked on Thursday—two days early—in low-key ceremonies in Paris led by the city’s mayor Anne Hidalgo.
The killings continued after the attack on the offices.
One of the Kouachi brothers shot dead a policeman in cold blood as the officer lay injured on the pavement. As the Kouachis went on the run, another France-based jihadist, Amedy Coulibaly, took up the baton by first killing a policewoman and then taking hostage Jewish shoppers in a kosher supermarket. He killed four men before police stormed the building and shot him dead.
The Kouachi brothers, who carried out the attack in the name of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, were themselves killed in a shootout with police after a siege northeast of Paris. The man said to have inspired the Charlie Hebdo killers, Farid Benyettou, this week published a book about what he says is his move away from extremism, called: My jihad, the journey of a reformed character.
For the first time, he admitted in interviews that he was partly to blame for the bloodshed. “I share part of the responsibility, I can’t deny it,” the 35-year-old said in an interview with Le Parisien newspaper on Thursday.
Amid the soul-searching in the aftermath of the attack, Charlie Hebdo made millions from the sales of special editions and used some of the proceeds to launch a German-language edition last year.