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Charlie Hebdo lives on, as blasphemous as ever

January 14 2015, 10:02

The Parisian satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo will appear on schedule on Wednesday, even though half of its editorial team were killed by Islamists last week. It's a triumph for press freedom - and laughter.

If the Islamist terrorists meant to silence Charlie Hebdo by killing 12 people in its offices, they failed. In fact, quite the opposite: the satirical magazine has hit the market with three million copies: 50 times as large a circulation as before the attack. The prophet Muhammad, whose depiction conservative Muslims consider offensive, is on the cover. Charlie Hebdo, which has traditionally lampooned various religions, will be translated into various languages, including Arabic.

Staying funny

The surviving editors and cartoonists began working on the new edition two days after the attack. The whole of France was waiting for Charlie Hebdo, because its punctual appearance would be a signal to show that press freedom is stronger than terrorism.

The right to blasphemy must be defended, editor Gerard Biard said. "Of course we want this to be a funny issue. We'll make you laugh, because we can't do anything else. That says that they didn't kill Charlie," said Biard after the editorial meeting, which French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also attended.

'I had to cry'

The cover of the new issue shows the prophet Muhammad crying and holding up the "Je suis Charlie" sign that has become a symbol of resistance to the violence in the past few days. Above Muhammad, the headline reads, "All is forgiven." Even the prophet is crying over what the terrorists did, is how cartoonist Luz explained his idea. "There was this idea of 'Je suis Charlie,' and I drew a crying Muhammad. Then I wrote 'All is forgiven,' and I had to cry myself. And then the cover was finished!"

Luz said that the team had to work hard to get the magazine ready in time. There wasn't much time to mourn. It felt, he said, as though their dead friends were still there. Biard said that material and ideas of those killed was also used. "No one was dead in this issue," he said. "They're still here. They'll be in this issue, because they were always with us."

This issue has only eight pages, rather than the usual 16, but it consists of the same mix of comic strips and biting texts. The attacks and terrorism are the main themes, but the issue is completely normal, insists Biard. "It's not a memorial issue. There are no obituaries. We do what we always do on Wednesdays."

Working under police protection

The editorial team found space to work at the daily newspaper Liberation. Other media outlets donated computers and other equipment. "They didn't have anything. The bloody pencils and laptops are sealed off at the crime scene," said Pierre Fraididenraich of Liberation. The newspaper's building, printers, and distribution center are all heavily guarded by police. There is real fear of another attack.

The French government intends to donate a million euros ($1.2 million) to Charlie Hebdo. If the entire circulation is sold, the magazine will take in as much as it would otherwise make in an entire year.

Keep calm! And why?

Islamic organizations in France have called on French Muslims to stay calm and to accept the publication of the magazine. The cartoonist behind the new drawing of the crying Muhammad can't understand all the excitement. "It's not a cover showing a terrorist," Luz told an improvised press conference. "There's no terrorist at all. It's just a man crying. A good man, crying. I'm sorry if someone was expecting something else. That's our choice."

 

Biard declared that his magazine would not spare any religion in future. The right to blasphemy had to be defended. "Secularism isn't some vague concept," he said. "It's a system of values. We have to be clear that the separation of state and church is the most important principle of our republic. Without it, freedom, equality, and brotherhood are impossible."

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