PARIS — The cover of the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo, which shows the prophet Muhammad weeping, has prompted denunciations from Islamic leaders worldwide and fears of more violence in France.
But there’s plenty inside the weekly newspaper to stir controversy, as well.
The 16-page paper, which sold out within minutes of hitting the streets Wednesday, heaves with the sort of irreverent, off-color humor that made Charlie Hebdo famous – and infamous. No one is spared ridicule: religious leaders of all faiths, politicians, terrorists, Charlie supporters and the paper’s own dead staffers all come in for ribbing, to varying degrees of gentleness and savagery.
In one cartoon, two hooded terrorists are pictured in heaven, with one asking the other: “Where are the virgins?”
“They’re with the Charlie staff, loser,” his accomplice replies.
Another depicts a harried and exhausted cartoonist hunched over his desk, with the caption, ‘Cartooning at Charlie Hebdo, it’s 25 years of work.”
The next panel shows hooded gunmen mowing people down with a Kalashnikov, accompanied by the words, “For a terrorist, it’s 25 seconds of work.”
The concluding thought: “Terrorism: A job for lazy people.”
Other cartoons take on Pope Francis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, nuns, priests, rabbis, imams and death itself. The paper’s final cartoon pictures the Grim Reaper smiling as he reads his copy of Charlie Hebdo and then exclaims, “I’m subscribing!”
As is always the case with Charlie, the goal is to provoke, to stir debate and to make people laugh — while also reminding anyone who might think otherwise that Charlie can make for distinctly uncomfortable reading, no matter one's faith.
The paper was produced by staff members who survived last week's attack, who worked day and night to ensure that the edition came out on time. With their offices still roped off as a crime scene, the staff worked out of a conference room at the left-wing daily Liberation. The offices there are being guarded round-the-clock by an extraordinary number of police officers and private security guards. Although most of the paper's content is new, some work by the artists and writers who were killed last week has been reproduced.
The paper’s lead editorial offers a vigorous defense of secular values, saying the staff laughed on hearing that the bells of the Cathedral of Notre Dame would ring in their honor.
“The millions of anonymous people, all the institutions, all the world leaders, all the politicians, all the intellectuals and media figures, all the religious dignitaries who proclaimed this week that ‘I am Charlie' need to also know that that means, ‘I am secularism,’” the editorial says.
An initial print run of 3 million copies was expanded to 5 million when kiosks across the country ran out before dawn on Wednesday.