When France's Laughter Died

Does Islamists' firebombing of a French magazine's headquarters signal the end of a country's unbridled humor?

No one at France’s national satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, was laughing this week after the publication’s Paris offices were destroyed by a firebomb overnight late Tuesday or early Wednesday morning. It is believed Islamists, angry that the editors had named the Prophet Mohammad as guest “editor-in-chief” for this week’s edition, were responsible for the attack. The edition was dedicated to a satire of sharia law, but the firebomb assault took place before it had even hit the newsstands on Wednesday.

“We received threats, but no one had seen this edition,” said Stephane Charbonnier, the magazine’s designer and director. “People reacted violently to the paper yet they were completely ignorant of the edition’s contents; that is the most aberrant and idiotic.”

The leftist weekly publication, founded in 1960, came up with the idea to satirise sharia law and to honour Mohammad with the editor title after the victory of the Islamist Ennahda party in Tunisia’s election last week and the announcement sharia law would be introduced in Libya. The editors proclaimed the upcoming sharia theme in a humorous statement they released in advance that elicited “quite a few letters of protest, threats, insults,” on Twitter and Facebook.

“To fittingly celebrate the victory of the Islamist Ennhada party in Tunisia…Charlie Hebdo has asked Mohammad to be the special editor-in-chief of its next issue,” the statement read. “The prophet of Islam didn’t have to be asked twice and we thank him for it.”

When it appeared on Wednesday, the controversial edition’s front page showed a caricature of a “visibly happy” Mohammad and had him saying “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing.” The edition had also had its title changed to ‘Sharia Hebdo’ and contained a women’s section called “Madame Sharia” as well as an editorial by Mohammad titled the ‘Happy Halal Hour.’ There are also two pages of cartoons with sharia law as their subject, and Mohammad appears again on the last page, wearing a clown’s nose, with, ironically, the caption: “Yes, Islam is compatible with humour.”

As it turns out, the magazine was wrong. Its headquarters were also not the only target singled out for attack. In what may have been a co-ordinated move with the firebombing, Charlie Hebdo’s website was simultaneously hacked. On Wednesday morning, its home page showed the words “no god but Allah” accompanied by a picture of the grand Mosque in Mecca with a message in English and Turkish.

“You keep abusing Islam’s almighty Prophet with disgusting and disgraceful cartoons using excuses of freedom of speech,” the message read. “Be God’s curse upon you!”

French politicians and France’s newspaper association were all quick to condemn the assault on the Charlie Hebdo offices and express solidarity with its staff. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the “…every attack against the freedom of the press must be condemned with the greatest firmness,” while the French minister of culture, Frederic Mitterand, called the assault “intolerable.

“There is no democracy without irreverence, without parody and without satire,” said Mitterand.

But as usual after such events in France regarding Muslim terrorism, the politicians will not discuss or investigate how their country reached this point where a well-known, national publication could be burned out of its offices in its capital, like in a Third World dictatorship. To do so would only help confirm that France, once the land of the Enlightenment, is turning into a place of darkness, thanks to Islamic fanaticism. So it is best just to express nice-sounding phrases, let things settle back down to the way they were and prepare a new set of reassuring phrases for the next attack, which in France nowadays is probably never too far off.

Muslim leaders in France also condemned the firebomb attack, but the president of the French Council of the Muslim Religion (CFCM) qualified his condemnation by stating his uneasiness about the “climate of Islamophobia” in Europe. But this is unsurprising. Mentioning Islamophobia is becoming a common tactic on both sides of the Atlantic whenever Muslim radicalism comes under scrutiny. It helps deflect attention from the real wrongdoings. And while expressing strong condemnation, the CFCM president added his organization “also vigorously deplored the magazine’s tone of caricature in regard to Islam and its prophet…,” indirectly indicating Charlie Hebdo may have itself to blame for the night assault.

France, a country of 62 million people, has a Muslim population of about six to eight million, the largest in Europe. The week-long riots of Muslim youths in suburbs on the outskirts of French cities in 2005 brought to the world’s attention that all was not well with multiculturalism in what was once one of the West’s leading democracies. Once highly regarded for its culture, French society is now probably so sick from the Islamist infection, it is beyond help.

American author and Islam expert Robert Spencer, for example, was unable to have his translated book, Islam Unveiled, published in France in 2003 by a publishing house that had agreed to do so. The book contested conventional wisdoms held in the West about Islam. Publication was cancelled when both the translator and the publisher received death threats.

More in keeping with France’s dhimmi status, while people were threatened with death over Spencer’s book, the novel Rever la Palestine (Dream of Palestine) was published the previous year with no apparent obstacles. Written by a fifteen-year-old Egyptian living in Italy and published by France’s third-largest publishing house, Rever concerns Palestinian teenager’s fighting against “bloodthirsty Jews, who assassinate children and old people, profane mosques, and rape Arab women.” Which says it all about the state of French culture and freedom of expression nowadays.

Charlie Hebdo is moving temporarily into the offices of the leftist daily newspaper Liberation and intends to bring out next week’s edition on time. Europe already experienced a serious and potentially deadly caricature crisis in 2006 when the Danish newspaper, Jyllands Posten, published different drawings of the Muslim prophet. Since then, several terrorist attacks have been broken up that targeted the newspaper building, editors and Posten caricaturist Kurt Westergaarde.

It is as yet unknown whether Charlie Hebdo and its staff will also have to live under the same, years-long terrorist threat as the Jyllands Posten newspaper. But from its recent fiery experience, its editors should at least take away the realization France is no longer a land of unbridled humour, but also one of Islamist hatred.

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