On Tuesday, Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine that witnessed a gun rampage in 2015, had announced that it will be republishing the controversial cartoons of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. The bold move stands in solidarity with the beginning of the court trial of 14 people involved in the massacre committed at its Paris office.
The move is being touted as a symbol of freedom of speech by some, while others consider it as a reckless provocation of Islam extremists. The magazine posted the cartoons online on Tuesday and appeared in print on Wednesday. It seems journalists and editors at the Magazine are brazenly asserting their commitment to freedom of speech despite the traumatic fallout of their previous ‘offensive’ Islamist cartoon.
The cartoon released on Wednesday was accompanied by an editorial that said, the paper's staff "will never lie down." Publishing director Laurent "Riss" Sourisseau, who was wounded in the attack, wrote "We will never give up. The hatred that struck us is still there and, since 2015, it has taken the time to mutate, to change its appearance, to go unnoticed, and to quietly continue its ruthless crusade."
The Charlie Hebdo editorial accompanying the Muhammad cartoons
Charlie Hebdo’s editors wrote that it was “unacceptable to start the trial’’ without showing the pieces of evidence to readers and citizens. Riss propounded that the only reasons to not reprint the cartoons “stem from political or journalistic cowardice." They added, “Do we want to live in a country that claims to be a great democracy, free and modern, which, at the same time, does not affirm its most profound convictions?’’
The front cover of the latest edition features the 12 original cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed with the French headline reading "Tout ça pour ça" ("All of that for this"). Some of the cartoons, one of which shows an image of Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban, were originally published in 2005 by a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. Only a year after were they reprinted in the French satirical magazine.
After they were published in the Danish newspaper, Denmark witnessed widespread anger among the Muslim community for the derisive portrayal of Prophet Muhammad but they were more upset at the attempt at a visual depiction of the religious figure which supposedly amounts to blasphemy. Additionally, numerous Muslims felt targetted by the cartoon as, they felt, it stereotyped them as terrorists.
In the accompanying editorial, the editors reveal that they’ve often been urged to continue printing caricatures of the Prophet even after the 2015 killings.
"We have always refused to do so, not because it is prohibited - the law allows us to do so - but because there was a need for a good reason to do it, a reason which has meaning and which brings something to the debate," the editorial reads. "To reproduce these cartoons in the week the trial over the January 2015 terrorist attacks opens seemed essential to us."
The Muhammad cartoons are not the first, Charlie Hebdo has a long history of indulging in anti-establishment satire and has poked fun at radical political and religious ideologies. For instance, in 2013 they published a cover depicting the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit having intercourse to support same-sex marriage and criticize Christianity.
The 2015 massacre over the Muhammad cartoons at the Charlie Hebdo office
On January 7, two Islamist extremists siblings marched into the office of the publication, Charlie Hebdo and opened fire killing the editor Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb, cartoonists - Cabu, Honoré, Tignous and Wolinski, economist Bernard Maris, editors Elsa Cayat and Mustapha Ourrad, guest Michel Renaud and maintenance worker Frédéric Boisseau. The editor’s bodyguard and a police officer were also killed in the attack.
During the brutal attack, the gunmen yelled out “Allahu Akbar”, ‘(God is great’ in Arabic), and also “the Prophet is avenged”. The gunmen were identified as Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, French Muslim brothers of Algerian descent.
Soon after, a manhunt began for the two brothers who were eventually killed in a crossfire. However, this wasn’t the end of the terrorist activities as after their deaths, another siege began in the east of Paris by Amedy Coulibaly. Reportedly he was an acquaintance of the Kouachi brothers and on January 9, he killed a policewoman and kept several people hostage at the Kosher, a Jewish supermarket. He shot 4 Jewish men before being gunned down by the police as reported by the BBC.
A video recording discovered after his death showed him pledging his allegiance to the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and claiming the attacks were “retribution”.
Unfortunately, the attacks on Charlie Hebdo was the first of a string of major Islamist attacks on Paris.
What is happening in the trial?
Fourteen people are being tried in court on the account of allegedly obtaining weapons and providing logistical support to the attackers in the Charlie Hebdo shooting and subsequent attacks on the Jewish supermarket. The trial will include 200 plaintiffs and survivors are expected to testify against the accused.
The trial, which was supposed to start in March, had been postponed by several months due to the pandemic. However, now the court in Paris will sit until November 10 and the proceedings will be filmed for archival purposes.
The trial is surely an important one and is expected to bring closure to the families of the deceased editors and cartoonists. The National anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard assured the people that the trial was much more than just "little helpers" going on trial since the three gunmen were now dead.
"It is about individuals who are involved in the logistics, the preparation of the events, who provided means of financing, operational material, weapons, a residence. "All this is essential to the terrorist action," he told France 24.
The consequent terrorist attacks in France
Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the organization became a national symbol of freedom of speech in France, and “Je Suis Charlie” became a popular slogan to support that notion. After the shooting, France also witnessed a string of terrorist attacks and activities, many of which were claimed to have been carried out by the terrorist organization, ISIS. Here is a timeline of the attacks:
26 June 2016, Saint-Quentin-Fallavier: Yassin Salhi, a driver for the Air Products Gas Company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, had beheaded his employer and placed his head on the fence of the company along with two flags with the Shahada written on them. Later, he drove his car into a hangar in order to set fire to gas and acetone cylinders, injuring two employees. The police found that Salhi had sent a picture of the beheading via Whatsapp to a Canadian number located in Syria which was later attributed to Yunes-Sébastien V-Z, a French Foreign fighting for ISIS in Raqqa.
13-14 November 2015, Paris: These were a series of one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Paris. According to the BBC, gunmen and suicide bombers attacked a concert hall, a major stadium, restaurants, and bars, killing 130 people and wounding hundreds. The first of three explosions occurred outside the Stade de France stadium -a man wearing a suicide belt was prevented from entering the stadium after explosives were detected on him. Consequently, the man backed away from security guards and detonated the explosives, leaving him and a passerby dead.
On the same night, other attacks were taking place around popular nightlife spots in the city. The third and most fatal attack of the night occurred at a concert venue on Boulevard Voltaire, where 89 people were killed and 99 others were seriously injured as the terrorists fired Kalashnikov-type assault rifles into the crowd as reported by the BBC.
14 July 2016, Nice: A man deliberately drove a 19-tonne cargo truck into crowds of people celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais which led to the death of 86 people and injury of 458 others. According to witnesses, the driver was swerving and driving in a zigzagged manner to hit more people.
The driver was identified as Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a Tunisian living in France. Soon after, the police had arrived and shot him down in a crossfire. It was confirmed to be an ISIS attack as the Islamic State took responsibility for the attack, saying Lahouaiej-Bouhlel answered its "calls to target citizens of coalition nations that fight the Islamic State".
There were several other attacks as well, however, they weren’t directly linked to a terrorist organization so the motivations behind them are still ambiguous. Due to the current trial, France fears that another terrorist attack may be around the corner.
The Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin says the threat "remains extremely high in the country," in a speech during a visit to France's internal security service the DGSI. He added, "The risk of terror of Sunni origin is the main threat that our country is facing."
Additionally, he revealed that there are 8,132 individuals on France's database who are suspected Islamist radicals and potential security threats. It seems France will remain on high alert with the trial beginning and more importantly because of the republishing of the controversial Muhammad cartoon.