‘I prefer to die than live like a rat,’ magazine...
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Jan 07, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

‘I prefer to die than live like a rat,’ magazine editor said after 2011 attack

Magazine editor Stéphane Charbonnier battled religious extremism for years, refusing to back down. Now, at 47, he is dead, the victim of religious extremism

OurWindsor.Ca

It was Nov. 2, 2011, and Stéphane Charbonnier was in his third year as editor-in-chief of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

The publication’s cover that week was no more provocative than many others it had published during several decades of outspoken and at times outrageous existence, which is to say pretty darned provocative.

“One hundred lashes if you don’t die of laughter,” warned a bug-eyed version of the Prophet Mohammed that leered from the front of that week’s edition, redubbed for those seven days as “Charia Hebdo” — in other words, “Sharia Hebdo.”

It was a joke, but somebody failed to get the humour.

At one o’clock in the morning, an aggrieved individual or individuals tossed a Molotov cocktail into the publication’s offices, located in Paris’s 20th Arrondissement, starting a fire that soon gutted the place.

Owing to the early hour, no one was hurt.

Still, you could call it a warning, except that Charbonnier refused to back down.

“I prefer to die than live like a rat,” he told ABC news at the time.

Nicknamed “Charb,” Charbonnier was among those killed in Wednesday’s attack by three gunmen on Charlie Hebdo’s office. He was 47.

Like their editor, the cartoonists and writers who worked at the magazine refused to be cowed by the firebombing of their quarters in 2011 and instead continued to do what Charlie Hebdo’s staff had been doing in one guise or another since the 1960s, using sometimes heavy-handed and often lewd humour to torment their favourite targets, which include radical conservatives, politicians of all stripes, celebrities of diverse descriptions, and just about any religion you can name.

Now 10 members of the magazine’s staff are dead — victims, not of laughter, but of some diabolical species of intolerance that breeds in laughter’s absence.

Two French police officers were also killed in Wednesday’s attack.

In addition to Charbonnier, the dead staffers include Bernard Maris, 68, a columnist and deputy editor, as well as three popular French cartoonists, including Jean Cabut, 76, (nicknamed Cabu), Georges Wolinski, 80, and Bernard Verlhac, 57 (known as Tignous).

“The aim is to laugh,” another staff member, Laurent Léger, said at the time of the arson attack three years ago. “We want to laugh at the extremists — every extremist. They can be Muslim, Jewish, Catholic. Everyone can be religious, but extremist thoughts and acts we cannot accept.”

Extremism may have won a temporary victory in France on Wednesday, but the war between the pen and the sword is a prolonged conflict, waged on countless fronts, and its final outcome will not be determined by three masked thugs carrying assault weapons on a cold winter’s day in Paris.

It is a fair bet that Charlie Hebdo, or some version of it, will continue to battle on the side of the pen, just as the publication has done for four decades, arising on at least two occasions from the ashes of its own demise.

The publication certainly has its critics.

“Anything that can hurt the convictions of someone else, in particular religious convictions, should be avoided,” then French president Jacques Chirac declared in 2006, after Charlie Hebdo reprinted a series of cartoons making light of the Prophet Mohammed, drawings that had sparked riots among incensed Muslims following their original appearance the previous year in the Danish publication Jyllands-Posten.

Chirac’s cautionary sentiments have often been echoed by French government officials since then.

In 2012, Paris temporarily closed its diplomatic posts, cultural centres, and schools in more than 12 Muslim countries after Charlie Hebdo published more cartoons depicting Mohammed.

Founded in the 1960s, the publication now called Charlie Hebdo was originally known as Hara-Kiri, but it was closed down in 1970 after providing tongue-in-cheek coverage of the death of former French president Charles de Gaulle, who was not yet dead at the time.

The magazine promptly reinvented itself under its current name, with much the same staff, and it has continued to aggravate its adversaries ever since (except for an 11-year hiatus between 1981 and 1992, when it closed for want of cash, an abiding anxiety).

The “Charlie” in the publication’s name is a reference either to the Peanuts comic strip or to de Gaulle — possibly both. “Hebdo” is an abbreviation of hebdomadaire, the French word for “weekly.”

After reprinting the Danish cartoons in 2006, Charlie Hebdo was sued by both the Great Mosque of Paris and the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, but the court rejected the suit after concluding the drawings did not incite religious hatred.

“If we can poke fun at everything in France, if we can talk about anything in France apart from Islam or the consequences of Islamism, that is annoying,” Charbonnier said in a BBC interview following the 2011 firebombing.

Charlie Hebdo has attracted particular attention for its frequent skirmishes with Islam, but it has also ridiculed Judaism and Christianity in similarly lurid and often tasteless fashion, not to mention its often politically incorrect attacks on a variety of non-religious targets.

“Above all, it is a secular and atheist newspaper,” Charbonnier told Reuters in 2012.

Toronto Star

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(1) Comment

By Prof | JANUARY 07, 2015 10:18 PM
Surely, in the name of "free speech and democracy" this publication will be publishing the actual drawings in question. Wouldn't the terrorists have won if they didn't? Also I wonder, why isn't ISIS (or ISIL or IS or whatever) at all concerned with Israel? Why is that? Lastly, all of that NSA global surveillance did nothing to stop this attack, and the alleged perps are still at large (but at least you've got nothing to hide, right?).
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