The Provocative Covers of Charlie Hebdo

The satirical weekly, whose staff were victims of Wednesday's deadly Paris shooting, is well known for its biting cartoons, making fun of the pope, the prophet and politicians.

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An archive photo of an issue of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, with a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed on the cover.
An archive photo of an issue of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, with a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed on the cover.Credit: AFP

The stubbornness of the French weekly Charlie Hebdo to continue publishing provocative cartoons on its cover garnered many threats and violent reactions over the years. The worst came on Wednesday, when three masked and armed gunmen slaughtered attacked the magazine's offices, killing 12, including two policemen.

Here are 10 covers of the satirical publication that angered some readers and made others laugh, but stirred them all.

2011: Criticizing the Islamic victory in Tunisia

In its November 2, 2011 edition, Charlie Hebdo dealt with the victory of the Islamic party in the Tunisian elections, portraying the prophet Mohammed on its cover, with him declaring: "100 lashes if you don't die laughing."

The offices of the paper in Paris were set on fire and burned down completely the day the edition was published, after a firebomb was thrown into the building. In addition, the magazine's Internet site was hacked and the homepage was changed to say: "There is no God but Allah."

2006: Mohammed talks about radical Muslims

There are those who say this was the most controversial cover published by Charlie Hebdo. In the caricature on the cover of the February 9, 2006 edition, the prophet Mohammed is seen crying, alongside the headline: "Mohammed is overwhelmed by the fundamentalists." In the caption alongside, he says: "It is hard to be loved by idiots ..."

But the real provocation was hidden inside the paper, in 12 cartoons of Mohammed that had originally been printed in the Danish paper Jyllands Posten. The president of France at the time, Jacques Chirac, condemned Charlie Hebdo for publishing the cartoons, and Muslim groups sued the magazine.

2007: Three religions on the pyre

It may seem that Charlie Hebdo has devoted all its covers to Islam, but this cartoon proves the paper is an equal opportunity satirist when it comes to other religions. In 2007, before the editor was acquitted of charges based on the publication of the cartoons of Mohammed, it published an especially biting cartoon on this cover. It has an ultra-Orthodox Jew, a bishop and a radical Muslim declaring: Charlie Hebdo must be veiled."

2012: Connected, the Jewish-Muslim version

This cartoon, which also stirred quite a bit of controversy, appeared on the magazine's September 2012 cover. It draws its inspiration from the French film The Intouchables. The movie tells the story of the relationship between a rich French quadriplegic and his young black caregiver of African origin. The headline of the cartoon is "Intouchables 2," depicting a religious Jew pushing a wheelchair with a Muslim in it, with the caption: "It's not a topic to be made fun of."

2014: Mohammed can't beat ISIS either

On the cover of an October 2014 edition we see a radical Muslim, seemingly a member of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), threatening to cut Mohammed's throat - with the headline: "If Mohammed would return ..."
Mohammed answers in the caption, "I'm the prophet, idiot!" The jihadist tells him: Shut up, infidel!"

1971: A celebration of democracy

This cartoon was drawn in 1971 by Georges Wolinski, who was murdered in Wednesday's attack. "Vote, idiot. You have no choice," it says. The cartoon reflected the anti-government spirit of the magazine and made it a classic. You can still find the phrase in French graffiti to this day.

2010: Pope Benedict XVI talks about sex

This cover – one of many the magazine printed to make fun of the Catholic Church – shows Pope Benedict XVI holding a Durex condom above his head and announcing: "It is my body," taken from the text of the mass and relating to the transubstantiation of the host into the body of Jesus. The title of the cartoon is: "The Pope goes too far." It was published in 2010 after a series of confusing announcements by Benedict on the rare cases in which the church allows the use of a condom to prevent disease.

2009: Making fun of the Sarkozy nepotism affair

Charlie Hebdo did not make only fun of religion, and French politicians also supplied no small amount of humor for its biting coverage. This cartoon. published in 2009, makes fun of the nepotism of then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who tried to get his son Jean a job as the head of the development agency for France's largest business district. The French media went to town with the story, which led to a public protest. The younger Sarkozy was forced to turn down the job offer.

"I slept with my father to get ahead," says Jean Sarkozy in the caption.

2006: Jesus tries out reality television

Television is one of the main focuses of the magazine's anger – especially reality shows, which it sees as representing American cultural imperialism. This cover from 2006, for example, declares television will change French habits.
Jesus is being crucified, and shouts, "I'm a celebrity ... take me away from here!" as part of the magazine's ridicule of the culture of reality television and the "stars" it creates.

2010: Supporting ban on wearing a burka in public

And to conclude: Another poke in the eye for Islam and Muslims. The fierce controversy that broke out in France in 2010 over the law banning the wearing of burkas in public was not something Charlie Hebdo could let pass without making its own statement on the matter.

The magazine proclaimed its support for the ban on this cover: Yes to wearing the burka ... inside!" In case anyone missed the message – the cartoon makes it quite clear to everyone.

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