In Post-attack Edition, Spirit of Satire Still Alive at Charlie Hebdo

The French magazine fearlessly tackles the recent terror attack in its new edition, but also deals with usual targets such as religion and politics.

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Customers buying the last remaining copies of the January 17 edition of Charlie Hebdo at a Berlin train station.
Customers buying the last remaining copies of the January 17 edition of Charlie Hebdo at a Berlin train station.Credit: Reuters
Saviona Mane
Saviona Mane

As survivors of the Charlie Hebdo massacre promised, the French satirical weekly came out on time last week, against all odds. “Nevertheless we are going to try to be optimistic, even though it is out of season,” said the magazine’s editorial, about the tragic circumstances of the January 14 special edition, which was 16 pages long.

A large number of the articles and cartoons in last week’s magazine are concerned with the tragic events in which 10 colleagues were murdered by two Islamic terrorists in their Paris office on January 7. Some of it is dedicated to their memory; part deals with regular topics such as corruption, politics or even sex; a special article is written in honor of the Italian film director Franceso Rosi, who died on January 10. But every single page contains the spirit of satire, even if it is seasoned here and there with hints of grief.

‘Rather lonely’

“For a week now, Charlie, an atheist magazine, has accomplished more miracles than all the saints and prophets together ... What made us laugh the most is that the bells of Notre Dame rang in our honor,” wrote Charlie Hebdo editor-in-chief Gérard Biard, in his article, “Are there any in favor” (Est-ce qu’il y a des oui). “There is however a question which still gnaws away at us ... will they finally stop inventing semantic, tortuous expressions describing equally assassins and their victims?” wrote Biard.

“In recent years, we have felt rather lonely, trying to push back with our pencils straightforward filth and pseudo-intellectual subtleties that they were throwing at our faces and that of our friends who were strongly defending secularism: Islamophobes, Christianophobes, racists... yes we condemn terrorism, but. Yes it is not good to threaten cartoonists with death, but. Yes, setting fire to a magazine’s headquarters is wrong, but.”

The blood of the victims is not yet dry, Biard continued, and there are already “Judeo-Western-American” conspiracy theories springing up.

Lila, the red cocker spaniel

Crime reporter Sigolène Vinson, who survived the attack and whose dramatic testimony was published in Le Monde, chose to devote her article to the magazine’s dog, Lila the red cocker spaniel, who was present in the conference room during the attack and also survived.

“Don’t be scared, we don’t kill women,” one of the terrorists told Vinson, even though her colleague, the Jewish psychoanalyst Elsa Cayat, was already dead on the floor. “Lila is female, maybe that is why she survived,” wrote Vinson.

“In the conference room, I usually took my place next to Tignous [Bernard Verlhac], [Philippe] Honore and Elsa,” writes Antonio Fischetti, one of the magazine’s journalists who, luckily, was not at the editorial meeting that fateful day.

“I wasn’t alongside them last Wednesday, since I had to go to the funeral of my aunt. My life was saved because of the funeral: I know someone who would have died laughing at that – Tignous,” wrote Fischetti, who dedicated his article to the renowned cartoonist who was murdered in the attack.

Many of the cartoons in the latest edition, which came out exactly a week after the killings, were drawn by the victims of the terror attack: Cabu (Jean Cabut), Georges Wolinski, Tignous, Honore and Charb (editor Stéphane Charbonnier).

The cartoons are crude, full of chutzpah, teasing, some explicitly challenging the threats made against Charlie Hebdo for years by extremist Islamists.

A cartoon picturing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), by Honore – who was one of the first cartoonists to work at Charlie Hebdo – appears in an article criticizing the governments’ failures, titled, “Antiterror, holes in the net.” The cartoon bears the caption, “Greetings from al-Baghdadi: And most of all, good health.”

In another cartoon, by Cabu, we see the offices of the Erasmus student exchange program in the European Union. A young man with a bag filled with rifles asks the clerk, “Don’t you have something for Syria? Okay, I’ll have to hijack a plane.”

The back cover of the new 'Charlie Hebdo'

In another cartoon, also by Cabu, a mother warns her son who is planning on flying with a Kalashnikov not to take it because his baggage will be overweight.  

On other pages, a number of survivors of the attack dedicate their cartoons to the march of the millions on Sunday, January 11, and balance the atmosphere of solidarity with humor.

Attacking Boko Haram

The magazine also devotes an article and cartoon to the horrors of the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, which recently massacred hundreds, if not thousands, in 16 villages in northeast Nigeria. In the cartoon, one Boko Haram member tells another, “That’s 2,000 subscribers Charlie Hebdo won’t be getting.”

Charlie Hebdo also printed a cartoon by Wolinski that makes fun of the ransom deals to release hostages, which in the end are used by the abductors to buy more weapons, titled “The Business of Hostages.”

The weekly, which describes itself as an “irresponsible,” atheist magazine, closes the edition with a cartoon of four clergymen – a Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Jew, with the title “New friends” – and alongside it a cartoon of a laughing Grim Reaper reading Charlie Hebdo and saying, “I’m subscribing.” The next edition will be published on January 28.

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