Charlie Hebdo has controversial history of offending radical Islam

The French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo has a controversial history in its treatment of radical Islam, including the firebombing of its office and a lawsuit against it alleging blasphemy.

French satirical newspaper has been firebombed, hacked and sued for its attacks on Muslims

Charlie Hebdo's influence

9 years ago
Duration 2:54
The satirical magazine has ignited controversy while defending freedom of expression

The French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo has a controversial history in its treatment of radical Islam, including the covers that led to the firebombing of its office and a lawsuit against it alleging blasphemy.

Nor is Islam alone among its targets: others have included former Pope Benedict XVI and Orthodox Jews.

The newspaper's website was attacked by hackers in 2011, after it published one of many cartoons lampooning radical Muslims in general and the Prophet Muhammad in particular.

Editor Stéphane Charbonnier of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, Charb, displays the front page of the newspaper in September 2012. Charbonnier is among 12 people killed when gunmen attacked the newspaper's Paris office. (Michael Euler/Associated Press)

The firebombing occurred at its Paris office on Nov. 2, 2011, after the magazine "invited" the Prophet Muhammad as its guest editor. No injuries were reported.

In February 2014, the Paris-based weekly was accused of blasphemy for a cover that Muslims called offensive, the International Business Times reported.

The League of Judicial Defence of Muslims (LDJM) brought the case before the criminal court in Alsace-Moselle, a region that retains part of the old German legal code, including the crime of blasphemy, the Times reported. Blasphemy isn't a crime in the rest of France.

Charlie Hebdo's history

  • Started as monthly Hara-Kiri in 1960, slogan 'dumb and nasty.'
  • Became weekly Hara-Kiri Hebdo in 1969.
  • Banned by French government in 1970.
  • Reopened as Charlie Hebdo, taking name from Charlie Brown comic.
  • Went out of business in 1981.
  • Revived in 1992 in response to Gulf War.
  • Firebombed in 2011 after issue 'guest-edited' by Muhammad.

Alsace-Moselle's blasphemy law, however, covers only Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism. It makes no mention of Islam.

"We know in advance that the trial will not go through, because Islam is not in the code," editor Stéphane Charbonnier was quoted as saying at the time.

Charbonnier was among those killed Wednesday. He was also known by his cartoonist signature "Charb."

Muhammad isn't sacred to me. I don't blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings.- Stéphane Charbonnier

In 2012, the magazine published more Muhammad drawings amid an uproar over an anti-Muslim film. The cartoons depicted Muhammad naked and in demeaning or pornographic poses. As passions raged, the French government defended free speech even as it rebuked Charlie Hebdo for fanning tensions.

The small-circulation weekly leans toward the left and takes pride in making acerbic commentary on world affairs through cartoons and spoof reports.

Satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo's editor, Stéphane Charbonnier — known as Charb — answers reporters' questions in front of the newspaper's office after a fire in 2011. The newspaper's offices in Paris were the target of a deadly attack Wednesday. (Thibault Camus/Associated Press)

"We treat the news like journalists. Some use cameras, some use computers. For us, it's a paper and pencil," the Muhammad cartoonist, who goes by the name Luz, told The Associated Press in 2012. "A pencil is not a weapon. It's just a means of expression."

Charbonnier told The Associated Press in 2012: "Muhammad isn't sacred to me. I don't blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings. I live under French law. I don't live under Quranic law."

Pope also a target

Islam is not alone in being singled out by Charlie Hebdo's satire. Past covers include retired Pope Benedict XVI in amorous embrace with a Vatican guard; former French President Nicolas Sarkozy looking like a sick vampire; and an Orthodox Jew kissing a Nazi soldier.

The magazine occasionally publishes investigative journalism, taking aim at France's high and mighty.

Charlie Hebdo's history of attacks on radical Islam is an extension of the work of the Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten — the Morning Jutland Post — the Danish newspaper that published cartoons lampooning Muhammad in 2005 and 2006, setting off protests around the world and several plots against the paper and its employees.

In Canada, Ezra Levant's Western Standard and the Jewish Free Press republished some of the Danish cartoons. They were accused of fomenting hatred by the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada.

Levant was the subject of a couple of complaints to the Alberta Human Rights Commission. One was withdrawn while the other was dismissed nearly a decade ago..

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With files from The Associated Press