Before dawn in Paris on Wednesday morning, and all over France, newsstands were overwhelmed with demand for the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo, the survivors’ issue. It sold out within minutes. The presses are still whirring as the magazine tries to produce five million copies for delivery, up from the normal print run of 60,000, but there’s no need to wait, The Daily Beast has snagged a copy for you.
Under extraordinary circumstances, the surviving staff of Charlie Hebdo has produced an issue that is perfectly true to type: defiant, uncompromising, funny, sometimes bittersweet, but with nary a hint of the melodramatic. None of the murdered staffers are left out and, just as they would have liked, no target for ridicule is spared.
The cartoonist Luz has reprised the Muhammad caricature that made the satirical publication the target of the terrorists in the first place. But the resulting prophet is compassionate, not crude. He is tearful, holding up the same “Je suis Charlie” sign that has become a global clarion call for free expression this week. Above his head, is a banner declaring: “All is forgiven.”
Luz told reporters Tuesday that he cried after drawing it. “It wasn’t the cover the world wanted us to do. It wasn’t the cover the terrorists wanted us to do. But it’s ours. We drew Muhammad again. I’m sorry. But the Muhammad we drew is above all a fellow who is crying,” he said. Editor in Chief Gérard Biard added that Charlie’s Muhammad here is a far kinder character than the one evoked by the terrorists who gunned down his staff.
Everyone is far game:
As usual, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons mock everyone, without mercy or distinction, often crudely.
One drawing, by Tignous, one of the cartoonists killed last Wednesday, depicts an Islamist cleric telling peers, “Charlie Hebdo people shouldn’t be touched... otherwise, they will pass for martyrs and, in paradise, those assholes are going to steal all our virgins!” Another Tignous cartoon features a woman lifting up her burqa to reveal all, complete with garter and fishnets, and a crowd of penis-nosed clerics looking on from inside the open garment.
But Christians, too, are singled out for crude banter. One cartoon by Cabu, who was also murdered last week, has Pope Francis giving Communion to women who were excluded for so long. “My God, forgive these cocksuckers,” goes his thought bubble.
Another cartoon mocks Charlie opportunists and profiteers: “Meanwhile in Bangladesh,” it reads, as a sweatshop worker making a “Je suis Charlie” T-shirt proclaims, “With you with all our hearts!”
And the terrorists get theirs, too. In the usual Charlie Hebdo backpage feature, “Covers you were spared,” several panels feature the gunmen who slaughtered the paper’s staffers. One reads, “Cartoonist at Charlie Hebdo, 25 years of work; Terrorist, 25 seconds of work. Terrorist, a trade for loafers and wankers.” Another, entitled “After visiting a newspaper, death at a printshop,” shows the terrorist Kouachi brothers lying in a pool of blood among stacks of paper. “I’m scared this will seem a bit intellectual,” one says to the other. A third cartoon, captioned “Our pencils will always be sharper than your bullets,” shows a masked terrorist evidently surprised to receive a massive pencil up his ass.
Calling out hypocrisy:
The irony of the past week is not lost on Charlie Hebdo’s surviving staff. Observers agree the terrorists who massacred ten staffers in the satirical weekly’s offices last week, including its headline political cartoonists, have done a disservice to their cause. A usual print run in the tens of thousands is dwarfed by millions for sale this week and a newspaper that has struggled financially has seen donations pour in en masse from all over the world. Despite a marginal readership, Charlie Hebdo made history on Sunday when four million people flooded into France’s streets in protest and support, the most marchers ever recorded in a nation that knows a thing or two about mass protests.
But Charlie isn’t intimidated by its newfound friends, welcoming “the ones we’ll keep for life and the ones very briefly passing by.” In his lead editorial, Editor-in-chief Biard waxed ironic about how “for the past week, Charlie, an atheist newspaper, has been accomplishing more miracles than all of the saints and prophets united.” What made the staffers of his “atheist newspaper” laugh most this week, he writes, was the bells of Notre-Dame chiming in the weekly’s honor. Biard thanks the supporters who “sincerely and deeply ‘are Charlie.’ And we say screw the other ones, who couldn’t give a toss anyway.”
“In recent years, we’ve felt a little alone,” Biard explains, recalling previous threats and attacks against Charlie Hebdo, including a 2011 firebombing of its offices, and calling out those who would describe his staffers as “Islamophobes, Christian-phobics, provocateurs, casters of oil on the fire, racists, you-had-it-coming.” He chides critics long equivocal about the threats Charlie faced: “Yes, we condemn terrorism, but. Yes, threatening cartoonists with death isn’t good, but. Yes, burning down a newspaper is bad, but.”
The paper’s centerfold includes cartoons of Sunday’s demonstration, noting the irony of Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Germany’s Angela Merkel, both of whom the paper has roundly mocked, being ferried to the march in a tour bus. “One family of clowns decimated, 10 found,” one cartoon reads, above a crowd of French politicians, including President François Hollande and former President Nicolas Sarkozy.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has been omnipresent in support of the attacked newspaper, even making an appearance at its borrowed headquarters this week as Charlie’s surviving staff hammered out this issue. Regardless, one piece doesn’t shy from arguing that any holes in French intelligence which may have enabled the massacre were on Valls’ watch. And another snipes at the Western media’s habit of blurring out the Charlie Hebdo covers it features, singling out the Associated Press and The Guardian, undeterred by The Guardian Media Group’s pledged $150,000 donation to keep Charlie Hebdo going.
Fallen colleagues’ ideas kept alive:
The murdered cartoonists’ drawings are featured prominently in this issue, alongside material sketched by colleagues since their deaths. But the late Charb’s words are also kept alive in a short interview he gave after the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo’s offices in 2011, reprinted under the headline, “I worry.” It’s poignant, especially under the circumstances:
“People worry about not seeing moderate Muslims reacting. There aren’t any moderate Muslims in France; there aren’t any moderate Muslims at all; there are people who are of the Muslim culture, who respect Ramadan like I might do Christmas and scarf turkey at my parents’ house, but they don’t have to commit more than that against radical Islam in the name of moderate Muslims since they aren’t moderate Muslims, they’re citizens. And as citizens, yes, they are taking action. They buy Charlie Hebdo, they demonstrate alongside us, they vote against those big right-wing jerks. What pisses me off is that they are always being called out as moderate Muslims. There aren’t moderate Muslims. It’s as if people said to me: ‘React as a Catholic moderate.’ I am not a Catholic moderate, even though I was baptized. I am not a Catholic at all.”
Several of the featured writers pay homage to their fallen colleagues. There is humor mixed with melancholy, but strikingly little melodrama. Charlie columnist Patrick Pelloux is also an emergency doctor and was one of the first to arrive at the scene of his colleagues’ massacre. Pelloux broke down in tears on French television this week and in President Hollande’s arms before Sunday’s demo. But his piece is sweet and funny, jaunty in tone, full of personal anecdotes that betray his sadness, as he wonders blithely why so many of his cartoonist friends aren’t returning his calls.
Luz sketches his fallen friends as children, drawing bonhommes, little cartoon fellows, to help them understand the bizarre world of adults.
Charlie columnist Zineb El Rhazoui tells how Charb used to mock his Islamist critics by using “Allah Akbar” as his sign-off on emails and text messages, as in, “Allah Akbar! Do you think you can get me your article by tomorrow?” She writes, “One day, we had this conversation at the newspaper, for a laugh, ‘Charb, stop yelling that—the day they come to bump you off, we won’t know whether it’s a joke!’ And it happened. We knew, at Charlie, that humor had something very serious about it.”
El Rhazoui concludes with a message to Charlie’s lost staff, “The pain will be long, will recur, and stretch out over time... But we will take a long time, a very long time, to discover and rediscover the hidden and unexpected treasures of your legacy. In the meantime, you have left us ovations when you lived being booed; you died unloved so that we might finally be understood. Thanks to you, we even got one year of free postage from the postal service! Everyone wants to help us, to read us, to subscribe, to buy us a coffee, a drink, a ticket... You are spoiling us long after your death, but now we know, we fear: When the hardship returns, it will return without you.”