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#JeSuisCharlie: Why satire is sacred and the Charlie Hebdo massacre was sacrilege

Wreckage from the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo in 2011
Wreckage from the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo in 2011

Wreckage from the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo in 2011

As gunmen attacked Charlie Hebdo’s Paris headquarters this morning, killing at least twelve people, the French magazine’s website screamed, “Charlie est en Danger!”

This headline spoke of the publication’s financial woes, but for years the magazine and its staff have been targeted with threats and violence for criticizing various religions and for denigrating the Prophet Muhammad through cutting, irreverent and provocative satire.

When Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published its now infamous Prophet Muhammad cartoons in 2005, Charlie Hebdo republished them the following year amid global outrage.

In 2011 the magazine briefly rebranded as “Charia Hebdo” and named the Prophet Muhammad as guest editor for a week, depicting him on its front cover. The firebombing that followed destroyed most of that week’s copies. Undeterred by the attack, Charlie Hebdo published nude caricatures of Muhammad following the Innocence of Muslims debacle in 2012.

“We want to laugh at the extremists—every extremist,” Charlie Hebdo journalist Laurent Léger said at the time. “They can be Muslim, Jewish, Catholic. Everyone can be religious, but extremist thoughts and acts we cannot accept.”

This morning, the extremists responsible for killing at least 10 of our colleagues and two police officers showed their capacity for brutality and their unwillingness to accept laughter. The fear they bring to our profession and the self-censorship they achieve through terrorism affect us all.

Two weeks ago I published a story on cartoonists who use satire to challenge religious hatred and censorship online. In it I referenced a cartoon by Martin Rowson that depicted a bearded man in a turban opening a copy of Jyllands-Posten saying “Looks nothing like me…”

Rowson granted RNS the right to republish this cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. After a brief email exchange among editors we opted not to do so. This decision came down to respect for our readers, but I’d be lying if I said previous attacks on Jyllands-Posten, Charlie Hebdo and other publications had no effect on our decision.

“The only thing power cannot cope with is being laughed at,” Rowson told me two weeks ago. “You win when you have the last laugh.”

Today there are no winners. Ten of our colleagues are dead. For their sake, in their memory, we must laugh again.

If Charlie Hebdo rebuilds and continues to publish, this year or in ten, its resilience and commitment to freedom of expression should be honored, whether or not you agree with its tactics and tone.

About the author

Brian Pellot

Brian Pellot is based in Cape Town, South Africa.


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  • Morality is doing what is right no matter what you are told.
    Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right.

    They were just following orders.
    “Slay them wherever you find them” – Surah

    Vive la France

  • Thank you for speaking humor to terror. I feel that if your faith is so brittle that it cannot take a joke or even criticism, then maybe you need to read your Koran, Bible or Torah again. As a Christian, it has never once occurred to me to shoot anyone who laughs at or demeans Christianity. I figure Jesus can take it – as I’m sure that Mohammed can. I sincerely grieve for the lives lost today, and I hope that Charlie Hebdo keeps publishing and has the last laugh after all.

  • If you read the Bible, you will find that the Abraham, Isaac, Joseph and Moses are not perfect. They have flaws. They make mistakes. They are sometimes more of an example of what not to do than the reverse.

    This magazine has done critical cartoons of all the major religions, Yet, so far only Muslims have attacked them. I realize that 99% of Muslims would never kill people for a cartoon, but there are a small minority who will.

    Max, I disagree with your definition of religion. Religion can and should make you more loving and more caring of your fellow human beings. I’ve seen it in Muslims, Christians, Jews and Buddhists.

  • Oh come now. You have misunderstood the gunmen. They are pious believers in Allah, the compassionate and the merciful.

  • Susan,

    “Religion can and should make you more loving and more caring of your fellow human beings.”

    No. Empathy does that – and it functions best without religion.
    If someone needs religion to act with kindness fine, I’ve never seen it.

    If a person has no empathy for fellow humans already, religion won’t put it there!

  • Religion cannot make a person empathetic if they are not capable of empathy, but most people are not sociopaths. I have seen that religion makes people better and more loving people.

  • “I have seen that religion makes people better and more loving people.”

    You are welcome to that belief. But I doubt your claim.

    I care about what is true and what is consistently humane based on the evidence.

    Religion destroys empathy – especially in a caring person. Only religion can make a good person decide to scold a homosexual child.
    Only religion can make a good person feel guilt for masturbation.
    Only religion can make a good person shame someone for thinking for themselves.
    Only religion can make a good person cut off a boy’s foreskin or mutilate a baby girl’s clitoris.

    Religion disfigures good people. While it destroys a person’s integrity.
    It attacks a person’s own right to think freely and faith forbids argument.

    It manages all this evil – While it hands an easy weapon to those who feel no empathy.

    For Peace, Humanity, Love and The Separation of Church and State

  • Based on your logic, we also have to blame 150 million murders under Marxist regimes on their self-proclaimed atheism.

  • No Jack,

    Marxist regimes were religious regimes.
    Hard Atheism is a religious claim – Hard Atheism is the religious claim that “God does not exist” and Marxist regimes ENFORCED the claim.

    So let’s review:
    1. Marxism was a religious regime with a dogmatic Religious claim that “God does not exist”.
    2. Hard Atheism was enforced by Fascist means not because it was Atheism but because it was decreed the law of the land by a dictator.
    3. Stalin morphed the Marxist religious regime into a Agrarian Religious Cult of the Dictator with Agrarian Miracle claims of supernatural power in Lysenko.

    What can Jack learn from this?

    1. Atheist Max is a typical Atheist; an Agnostic Atheist – not a Hard Atheist – he makes no religious claim so he has NOTHING TO DO
    with the Marxist religious claim that “There is no God.” That is NOT Max.

    2. Atheist Max is a proponent of Separation of Church and State – so he objects to enforcing a religious claim on anybody else.

    3. Atheist Max is against mass murder – which is actually how he became an Atheist!

    4. Atheism is simple non-belief. It is not Fascism. It has no doctrine and no interest in enforcing itself on anyone else.
    UNLIKE YAHWEH, ALLAH, JESUS and other imaginary, problematic fairies.

    For Peace, Civility and The Separation of Church and State

  • I think I may be God’s revenge on the Muhammadan killer apes aping religion with animal savagery as I am a prophet of God, really am as over 500 Nazarean Christians can verify having revealed the true Sword of Christ to them at Easter in 2003, the Holy Land’s most recent and most spiritually powerful religious icon. As Native American leaders can verify as I am the only European white man to ever have a Holy Land Christian based religious vision be accepted into a very strong Native American spiritual tradition, the White Buffalo Calf Woman prophesy tradition. And of course, there’s decades worth of brand new Christian theology I’ve authored such as the Gospel of Humanity and discovery of the Celestial Torah, lost in Judaism but now recovered in our times. Anyway, I am a Jewish Christian prophesy bearer and I was staff cartoonist for my high school newspaper and staff cartoonist on the U.C. Berkeley’s humor magazine, The Pelican. My artwork is mostly cartoon based. I am Charlie and I have been radicalized and now coming out against ALL Abrahamic religions as dangerous leftovers from a primitive religious past. I bring new yet ancient Celestial Torah information that changes everything we know about Christianity.

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