No rules, no regrets for French cartoonists in Mohammad storm

Riot policemen stand guard outside the French embassy in Cairo September 19, 2012. A French magazine ridiculed the Prophet Mohammad on Wednesday by portraying him naked in cartoons, threatening to fuel the anger of Muslims around the world who are already incensed by a film depiction of him as a lecherous fool.

Sometimes funny, often crass, always irreverent. Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly that has published lewd cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad is a serial offender and proud of it.

As copies of the magazine priced at 2.50 euros ($3.25) flew off French news stands on Wednesday, its publishers insisted as always on their right to poke fun at all symbols of political and religious authority in the name of freedom of expression.

Several of the caricatures relied on drawings of genitals to mock the furor over a film made in the United States that depicts the Prophet as a lecher, confirming Charlie Hebdo’s reputation for no-limits satire.

“To me, these religious hardliners who protest and kill over a crappy film are no different to the people who made the crappy film. They’re all the same pack, a bunch of assholes,” editor Stephane Charbonnier, under police protection since printing similar caricatures last November, told Reuters.

Some of the cartoonists who work with him now are diehards who worked in the 1960s for a publication – Hara-Kiri – whose self-proclaimed ambition was to be “inane and nasty”.

That publication was banned in 1970 after publishing a mock death notice inspired by two events that traumatized the nation – the death of General Charles de Gaulle at his country abode in Colombey, east of Paris, and a discotheque blaze that killed close to 150 people.

“Ball tragedy in Colombey. One dead,” Hara-Kiri said in a headline that led to it being ordered shut.

Reborn as Charlie Hebdo months later, the tradition remained the same – viscerally anti-establishment and critical of all religious persuasions.

It once greeted the Pope, head of the Roman Catholic faith, with a headline that read “Bienvenu au Pape de merde”, words that roughly translate as “Welcome crappy pope”.

This week’s foray followed another in November 2011 when the weekly enraged Muslims by renaming itself Charia Hebdo, a play on the French word for Islamic sharia law, and in 2006 when it republished Danish cartoons that caused protests and at least 50 deaths worldwide.

To this day, it sticks steadfastly to a tradition that makes waves, and more money when the waves crash hard.

“This is a satirical paper produced by left-wingers and when I say left-wingers that goes all the way from anarchists to communists to Greens, Socialists and the rest. Above all it is a secular and atheist newspaper,” said Charbonnier, who signs his own sketches and goes by the name of “Charb”.

“When we attack the Catholic hard right…nobody talks about it in the papers. It’s as if Charie Hebdo has official authorization to attack the Catholic hard right. But we are not allowed to make fun of Muslim hardliners. It’s the new rule…but we will not obey it,” he says.

Charbonnier said the heavy demand meant he would print a fresh run of about 70,000 copies to meet demand for the latest controversial edition, as it did when it made waves last year.


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