In an emotional act of defiance, Charlie Hebdo resurrected its irreverent and often provocative newspaper today, featuring a caricature of the prophet Mohammed on the cover that drew immediate criticism and threats of more violence.
The newspaper unapologetically skewered other religions as well, and bragged that Sunday’s turnout of a million people at a march in Paris to condemn terrorism was larger “than for Mass”.
“For the past week, Charlie, an atheist newspaper, has achieved more miracles than all the saints and prophets combined,” it said in the edition’s lead editorial. “The one we are most proud of is that you have in your hands the newspaper that we always made.”
Working out of office space borrowed from the Liberation newspaper, surviving staff published an unprecedented print run of three million copies – more than 50 times the usual circulation.
It is appearing on news-stands one week to the day after the assault by two masked gunmen that killed 12 people, including many of the weekly’s editorial staff and two police officers. It was the beginning of three days of terror that saw 17 people killed before the three Islamic extremist attackers were gunned down by security forces.
Before the new edition was even released, one of Egypt’s top Islamic authorities had warned Charlie Hebdo against publishing more cartoons of Mohammed. Dar al-Ifta, which is in charge of issuing religious edicts, called the planned cover an “unjustified provocation” for millions of Muslims who respect and love their prophet and warned the cartoon would likely spark a new wave of hatred.
Indeed, criticism and threats immediately appeared on militant websites, with calls for more strikes against the newspaper and anonymous threats from radicals, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a US-based terrorism monitor.
The latest cover shows a weeping Mohammed, holding a sign reading “I am Charlie” with the words “All is forgiven” above him. Zineb El Rhazoui, a journalist with the weekly, said the cover meant the journalists were forgiving the extremists for the attack.
Renald Luzier, the cartoonist who drew the cover image under the pen name “Luz”, said it represents “just a little guy who’s crying”. Then he added, unapologetically: “Yes, it is Mohammed.”
Speaking at a news conference in which he repeatedly broke down crying, Mr Luzier described weeping after he drew the picture.
“I wrote ’everything is pardoned’, and I cried,” he said, adding that at that moment the staff understood the drawing would be the cover.
“It is not the cover that the world wanted us to do,” he said, tearfully putting his head down on the table at one point as colleagues embraced him.
Charlie Hebdo had faced repeated threats and a firebombing for depictions of the prophet, and its editor and his police bodyguard were the first to die. Many Muslims believe all images of the prophet are blasphemous.
The latest issue of Charlie Hebdo maintained the intentionally offensive tone that made the newspaper famous in France. The first two pages included drawings by the slain cartoonists: One showed a well-known late French nun talking about oral sex; another showed Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders dividing up the world.
The lead editorial laid out a vigorous defense of secularism, and of the newspaper’s right to lampoon religions and hold their leaders accountable – and ended with a critique of the Pope.
But most of the controversy centered on the cover and its depiction of the prophet Mohammed.
Around the world, news organizations took different approaches to illustrating stories about the Charlie Hebdo cover. In the United States, CBS programmes and The New York Post ran images of the cover, while the ABC network did not.
The New York Times also did not publish it, but included a link to it. CNN did not show the cover online or on the air. The Associated Press had not run previous Charlie Hebdo cartoons showing Mohammed and declined to run the latest one as well, based on its policy to avoid images designed to provoke on the basis of religion.
In Europe, Spain’s leading daily newspapers published the image online and the state broadcaster showed it on news bulletins. In Britain, The Times, the Guardian and the Independent went with the image, while The Daily Telegraph did not.
The BBC showed the new cover on news programmes and Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Der Spiegel and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung used it on their websites.