Charlie-Hebdo and Islamic activism in France
The facts   Laïcité and freedom of expression in France
  • Nov.2, 2004 : Theo van Gogh, a Dutch movie-maker, is murdered by an Islamic activist in Amsterdam ; the murder generates a wave of emotion in Europe ;

  • Sept.22, 2005 : about this murder, the Danish daily Jyllands Posten publishes 12 caricatures of Mahomet, irritating the Muslim world

  • Sept.26, 2012 : a Spanish magazine, El Jueves, publishes an article which relaunches the controversy all over Europe : can a religion forbid freedom of expression ?

  • End of 2014 : in several articles, Charlie-Hebdo, a French weekly magazine famous for the quality of its cartoons and its taste for provocation defends freedom of expression and, finally, re-publishes the Danish caricatures

  • Jan.7, 2015 : two Islamic murderers kill most of the staff of Charlie-Hebdo during the editorial meeting

  • Oct. 2020 : a French court judges the accomplices of the murderers (who were killed after the slaughter)

  • Oct.16, 2020 : a French high school teacher who had given a lecture on freedom of expression to his class, using a caricature as an illustration, is stabbed and beheaded by a Pakistanese Islamic activist.

Read more about the Islamic terrorist attacks in France since 2012.


In January 2015, Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, was having its weekly editorial meeting when two Islamic terrorists entered the room and killed almost everybody. In all, the toll was 12 dead and 11 badly injured.

Charlie-Hebdo had been founded in 1971 when a magazine called Hara-Kiri was condemned for insult and changed its name into Charlie-Hebdo. The insult ? In Nov.1970, two major events took place the same week : a violent fire destroyed a ballroom in South-East France and killed 146 people, mostly teenagers and, a few days later,  former president Charles de Gaulle died in his village, Colombey-les-deux-Eglises. Hara-Kiri cover drawing  was titled “A tragic dancing party in Colombey : one killed”. This was considered so shocking that the Minister of Interior took a decree forbidding the publication of the magazine, which replied by changing its name into “Charlie-Hebdo”, an irrespectful  reference to the highly respected President Charles de Gaulle (in France, nicknames are generally considered depreciatory). This gives the very spirit of Charlie : nothing is sacred and we have the right to laugh about anything to protect freedom of expression and therefore democracy.

Founded in 1960, and inspired by Mad at that time, Hara-Kiri, self-subtittled “Journal bête et méchant”  (“a stupid and mean magazine”), followed by Charlie-Hebdo, is a magazine with a policy of publishing very brilliant drawings by the best political caricaturists and very provocative articles, with absolutely no respect for anybody or anything and a preference for very bad-taste jokes. Charlie-Hebdo is a perfect example of the ultimate limits of French earthy and second-degree humor (read more about French humor). The pope and the catholic church, the army and the flag, serious and pompous academics are among its favorites targets.
A few example of caricatures from Charlie-Hebdo    

Coco : “And God created … humor”  and the priest, the rabbi and the imam answer : “It’s written nowhere!”


For Charlie, humor is a human right and no religion can restrain it !


“The Virgin Mary raped by the Three Kings” and she says :“they were three and one them was black” (the word she uses is worse)


For Charlie, nothing is sacred but racism is definitely unacceptable, whoever is the perpetrator!


Roughly speaking, the political color of Charlie is somewhere between Socialist and Anarchist but in fact it is the magazine of a group of talented buddies, some very young and some quite old,  who love to laugh together and horrify the good guys and the conformists.

When a Danish magazine, Jyllands-Posten, published in 2005 a few caricatures of Mahomet (very mediocre, by the way), there was a surge of indignation and threats in the Islamic world. In France, people were not very interested but everybody, even the religious authorities, was shocked by the violence of the muslim reactions.
A few newspapers published some of the Danish caricatures, generating a flow of insults and death threats from the fundamentalist Islamist movements. Charlie-Hebdo made its cover with a drawing of a desperate Mahomet, looking like a very soft man, with his head in his hands and thinking “C’est triste d’être aimé par des cons” (“it is sad to be loved by assholes”) which infuriated them. From that moment, it became the main target of the Islamic terrorists, who finally succeeded in killing almost everybody…

The French were outraged and they expressed their indignation with a huge “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) movement . Among the few values the French share, there is laïcité or secularism (read about laicité : it is basic to understand France and the French). All the religions are free in France as long as the do not interfere with public life and remain strictly personal ; the French have the right to belong to any religion or to none and anybody is free to express any opinion as long as it is not an attack on a person (it would be defamation) but criticizing or mocking a religion is exercising the right of expressing an opinion : the crime of “blasphemy” does not exist. Charlie-Hebdo publishes regularly cartoons as shocking as a nun being sodomized ou God being obviously drunk : the French catholics and the Church do not appreciate them but they consider it as liberty of expression. Islamic fundamentalists have no sense of humor : when unhappy, they kill.

The murder of Charlie Hebdo’s team was part of a larger attack which included the attack of a Kosher supermarket (4 killed) and an attach of a church during a service, which aborted (1 killed).

After the crime, millions of people demonstrated in France (including two million in Paris, with 40 world leaders) to support Charlie Hebdo and freedom of expression.

In October 2020, ten accomplices were taken to court in Paris to receive heavy sentences for their help to the murderers before the attacks. Read more about the attack.


    In memoriam Charlie Hebdo
Wolinski : “The French are scared”  & “Wine is polluted”
Cabu : “Can we (still) laugh about everything?” and the answer is “No”

Charlie-Hebdo's had already been destroyed by a bomb in 2011 but nobody had been hurt. The 2020 attack of Charlie hebdo killed 12 and severely injured 11.

The killed ones were :

Charb, 47, the publisher of the magazine, an excellent cartoonist,  and Franck Brinsolaro, 49, the policeman who had been assigned to his protection

Georges Wolinski, 80, a cartoonist who  published also a daily drawing in l’Humanité, the daily newspaper of the Communist Party

Cabu, 76, a cartoonist who published also drawings in Le Canard Enchainé, the weekly influential satirical newspaper

Tignous, 57, and Philippe Honoré, 73, noth great cartoonists
Bernard Maris, 68, columnist, college professor of economics, the author of many (excellent) books
Elsa Cayat, 54, columnist, psychoanalyst

And also :
Frederic Boisseau (maintenance worker), Mustapha Ourrad (copy editor), Ahmet Merabet (police officer), Michel Renaud (travel writer).

Among the injured, Philippe Lançon, who lost his jaw in the attack and wrote a brilliant book about his very long recovery, with 17 surgeries (Le Lambeau, in English : Disturbance)

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books:

  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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