Charlie Hebdo’s editor, has been smiling for the cameras today and raising his fist in salute. Whether he enjoys taking a stand, or whether he just enjoys the attention isn’t clear. Either way, it’s hard to believe him when he says this is a weekly edition like any other.
Even so, the journalists at Charlie Hebdo are used to controversy. In 2006, they re-published the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed. They were dressed down by President Jacques Chirac and taken to court by Muslim groups. But they won the case.
In 2011, their offices were attacked after they printed more cartoons of the prophet.
Many here are offended and tired of the magazine’s antics. But Charlie Hebdo also retains solid support. It sold out within hours of publication on Wednesday. Another print run has been ordered.
Politicians from both sides have backed Charlie Hebdo through all these scandals. Nicolas Sarkozy defended its right to satire in 2007. Foreign minister Laurent Fabius was critical on Wednesday of the timing of these cartoons, but refused to condemn Charlie Hebdo for publishing. “In France,” he said “there’s a principle of freedom of expression and it cannot be threatened.”
Many French Muslims say they respect this freedom. But they feel stigmatised by the debate, and provoked by Charlie Hebdo.
So how damaging could these cartoons be? We may get an answer on Saturday when demonstrations have been called in Paris and other French cities.