When extremists affiliated with Al Qaeda stormed the offices of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in January, not many outside of France were familiar with the publication. Though it had been around since the 1970s in fits and starts, it appeared to be headed to a final reckoning. Around the time 12 members of its staff were killed, it was moving just about 30,000 copies per week and staring down bankruptcy.
After the massacre, everything changed. Parisians sported “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) pins to show solidarity for a publication once only noted for its controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that some called racist. A week after the attacks, Charlie Hebdo sold 7 million copies and, two months later, was looking at a $24 million windfall.
Now, the weekly has another turn in the spotlight. After terrorist attacks in Paris last week left more than 100 people dead, Charlie Hebdo has responded with yet another provocative cover first shared by columnist M : The image of a bullet-ridden man with the declaration “Ils ont les armes. On les emmerde, on a le champagne!”
Translation: “They have weapons. F—k them. We have champagne!”
“It’s goofy but graphic, funny and disturbing,” Think Progress wrote, saying the image “challenges.” “Bubbly gushes out of bullet holes, spewing in arcs like the Fontaines de la Concorde. The man looks like he’s dancing; if he were real, he’d be dying.”
“It embodies a sentiment shared by many Parisians after the attacks: resilience,” Business Insider wrote.
“Classic Charlie Hebdo,” wrote Marketwatch.
Tragedy may have once again brought Charlie Hebdo back from the edge. Two months after the January attacks, there were reports that the weekly’s staff was divided on how to spend its cash, which one French headline deemed “poison de millions.”
“All this money is doing more harm than good,” a lawyer representing the magazine’s management who declined to be named told Business Insider in March. “… It makes you think of a funeral when the relatives are bickering over grandma’s jewels on the way back from the cemetery.”
Then, in July, editor Laurent Sourisseau — who escaped death in the January attack by pretending to be dead — said the magazine would no longer publish illustrations of the prophet Muhammad. Sure, that was the magazine’s right. But wasn’t it that very right that a nation and the international news media — including a Washington Post columnist — had gone to bat for?
Maybe. But Sourisseau said Charlie Hebdo did not wish to be “possessed” by its critique of Islam.
“We have drawn Muhammad to defend the principle that one can draw whatever one wants,” he said, as The Washington Post’s . “… The mistakes you could blame Islam for can be found in other religions.” reported
When it comes to faith, Charlie Hebdo has always been an equal-opportunity offender, pillorying Jews, the pope, Mary and Jesus among many, many others. But even Renald Luzier, the cartoonist who drew the weekly’s unforgettable response to the Charlie Hebdo killings — a cover featuring the prophet shedding a tear and holding a “Je suis Charlie” pin under the declaration “tout es pardonne,” or “all is forgiven” — seemed to be sick of Muhammad. In April, he said drawing the prophet “no longer interests me.”
“I’ve got tired of it, just as I got tired of drawing [former French president Nicolas] Sarkozy,” Luzier said. “I’m not going to spend my life drawing them.”
In May, unable to work without his slain compatriots, he left the weekly.
“Each issue is torture because the others are gone,” he said. “Spending sleepless nights summoning the dead.”
Yanan Wang contributed to this report.