Magazine pokes fun at popes, presidents, prophets

Charlie Hebdo, the Paris-based satirical magazine that was targeted by gunmen in a brutal terrorist attack, is known for its defiance upholding freedom of expression in the face of Muslim anger over depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

The publication’s satire does not single out Islam. Past covers include former 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.

A 2012 cover (bubble reads “Do not mock!”) and a recent posting from the Charlie Hebdo Twitter account that included a cartoon of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghadadi offering New Year’s greetings and wishes for good health

In 2006, Charlie Hebdo riled Muslims in France and elsewhere after it reprinted 12 cartoons published months earlier by Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper. The caricatures sparked rioting and protests across the Muslim world and prompted a French Muslim organization to take the magazine to court, charging that it was fomenting racism by publishing the cartoons. A French court, however, disagreed, and acquitted the magazine.

An anti-establishment weekly whose Paris offices were under police protection due to threats, Charlie Hebdo continued to make waves. In 2011, it issued a tongue-in-cheek edition titled Charia Hebdo with “guest editor” Muhammad. The day before the edition hit newsstands, its offices were firebombed and its website hacked.

In September 2012, Charlie Hebdo ran a series of cartoons depicting a naked Muhammad. Fearing attacks on its diplomatic missions abroad, the French government ordered beefed-up security at embassies and consulates in Muslim countries.

“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.”

Editor Stéphane Charbonnier, among the 12 killed in the Jan. 7 attack, also defended the Muhammad cartoons to the Associated Press in 2012.

“Muhammad isn’t sacred to me,” said Charbonnier, who used the pen name Charb. “I don’t blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings. I live under French law. I don’t live under Quranic law.”

Charb lived under police protection. His bodyguard was killed in this week’s attack along with another police officer.

Charb told Le Monde newspaper two years ago: “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.”

One of his last cartoons, published in this week’s issue, seemed an eerie premonition.

“Still no attacks in France,” an extremist fighter says. “Wait — we have until the end of January to present our New Year’s wishes.”

Shortly after the attack, Charlie Hebdo’s website was down. Hours later, it was back up with the slogan “Je Suis Charlie” (“I Am Charlie”) emblazoned against a black background.

A click on the rallying cry of solidarity — which went viral on Twitter — brings up the same message in several languages, including Arabic. — j. wire services