Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine where shootings on Wednesday left at least 12 people dead, has a long history of pushing the limits of expression—and sometimes good taste.
In 2011, Charlie Hebdo published a special edition called “Charia Hebdo" featuring the Prophet Mohammad as a “guest editor". The cover depicted the prophet threatening readers with “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter". Shortly thereafter, Charlie Hebdo’s Paris offices were firebombed in an overnight attack that caused no injuries.
Just before Wednesday’s attack, the magazine’s official Twitter and Facebook accounts published a cartoon of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi offering wishes of good health for the New Year. And the current cover is on Submission, a book released on Wednesday about a future in which an Islamic France is led by a Muslim president who bans women from the workplace. In recent weeks, the magazine has had two police officers stationed outside its doors because of terrorist threats, Rocco Contento of the SGP police union told BFM Television.
Founded in its current incarnation in 1992, the magazine has skewered politicians, pop stars, and religious fundamentalists of all stripes in its weekly instalments of caricatures, interviews, and opinionated essays. Targets of its cartoon covers have included former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn dancing in a red tutu and the late singer Michael Jackson as a skeleton shortly after his death from a drug overdose.
Before Christmas last year, the cover depicted Charlie’s take on a traditional nativity scene—a spread-eagled Mary giving birth to the baby Jesus. That image currently decorates the magazine’s official Twitter profile.
Though little-known outside France, Charlie Hebdo—the name means simply Charlie Weekly—is one of the country’s better-selling political magazines, with an average circulation of about 100,000.
In 2006, it printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad originally published by a Danish newspaper, which had prompted sometimes-violent protests because Muslim tradition deems depictions of the prophet to be blasphemous. Islamic organizations sued the magazine for the drawings, a case dismissed by a French court in 2008, according to the Charlie Hebdo website.
Politicians in France, which has Europe’s largest Muslim population, have long understood that the magazine might inflame cultural tensions. During the 2006 controversy, then-president Jacques Chirac asked media organizations to avoid “provocation" of Muslims. And in 2012, former prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for restraint when Charlie Hebdo published more cartoons representing the Prophet Mohammad. The same year, AFP reported that police had interrogated a man who called for the beheading of Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb.
The magazine’s writers and owners have been unbowed, defending their content as free speech and arguing that they’ve satirized all major religions. In 2010, a cover showed Pope Benedict giving holy communion with a condom. A 2012 story on gay marriage depicted a ménage-a-trois featuring the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and God.
Charlie Hebdo is owned by a holding company, Les Editions Rotatives, that is controlled by staffers, including editor-in- chief Philippe Val and cartoonist Jean Cabut. They helped re- found the magazine 11 years after a previous version, which ran from 1969 to 1981, ran out of money and shut down. Bloomberg
Helene Fouquet in Paris contributed to this story.