Showing no fear after getting its offices firebombed soon after printing an issue ridiculing radical Islam, French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, has fired back with a cover depicting a gay Muslim man passionately kissing another man under the headline: "L'Amour plus fort que la haine," French for "love is stronger than hate."
Charlie Hebdo is a caustic and controversial satire magazine that uses vulgar humor and illustrations to lampoon anything its writers and artists feel is fair game, usually in the realm of politics and religion, with everyone at equal risk of being a target. French president Nikolas Sarkozy is perpetually ridiculed in its pages, as well as leftist politicians like Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Recently, a cover had a drawing of the Bible, Koran, and Torah swirling in a toilet bowl with a headline that read: "In the toilet, all the religions."
So, when the magazine's editors recently announced that Muhammad would be a "guest editor" and the magazine was temporarily renamed "Charia Hebdo" (a play on the word, "Sharia"), it was according to protocol. However, as is well-known, depicting Islam's prophet Muhammad is extremely offensive to some Muslims, and there has been violent retaliation, evidenced by the infamous 2005 Danish cartoon scandal in which riots flared up as a response to a newspaper's publications of cartoons ridiculing Muhammad.
Since then, other newspapers and media outlets have adopted self-censorship when it comes to images of Muhammad, such as Comedy Central choosing to edit out the image of Muhammad in a "South Park" episode in 2006 and Yale University choosing not to include the Danish comics of Muhammad in an anthology of controversial cartoons entitled, "The Cartoons that Shook the World."
Charlie Hebdo, however, was undeterred, and published its "Charia Hebdo" with a drawing of a bearded Muslim man on the cover (there was no specific reference to Muhammad), saying "100 lashes if you don't die of laughter." Inside were caricatures and comics that mocked the recent events in Libya and Tunisia where certain Sharia laws are being implemented and Islamist politicians getting elected.
Stephane Charbonnier, editor-in-chief of the humor magazine, told reporters: "What motivated us to publish this edition were events in Libya and Tunisia. It was a joke. The idea was to imagine a world where Sharia would be applied, but as everyone says to not worry about Libya or Tunisia, we wanted to explain what a 'soft' version of Sharia could look like."
The result was its website being hacked with a message that read "No God but Allah," death threats to employees, and a firebombing attack that completely destroyed the magazine's offices, but did not hurt anyone.
The attack was condemned by French Muslim groups. According to Reuters, Dalil Boubakeur, head of the Paris Mosque, said, "I am extremely attached to the freedom of the press, even if the press is not always tender with Muslims, Islam or the Paris Mosque."
Luz, a cartoonist at the magazine, made sure to point out that it was still unknown who actually conducted the attacks.
"Let's be cautious," he wrote. "There's every reason to believe it's the work of fundamentalists, but it could just as well be the work of two drunks."
Despite the attack, the Charlie Hebdo is striking again this week, with the gay Muslim man cover (some media outlets have described it as Muhammad, but that cannot be determined based simply on the cover).
News and gossip blog Gawker dryly predicted that "this will not end well."
Hopefully there will not be a violent reaction. However, there most definitely will be a reaction. According to American Spectator writer, Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo's offices showed the difference between the French and the American/English media.
In France, Al-Tamimi said the media reaction towards the attack has been overwhelmingly on the humor magazine's side, with support from across the political spectrum, with some decrying the manner of Charlie Hebdo's speech, but pointing out the importance to protect free speech, nonetheless.
In the U.K. And U.S., however, the "support" has been less bold. The Guardian published a column by a French journalist that sought to explain the attacks as a result of "polarized attitudes towards Islam" in France.
Journalist Pierre Haski writes that "when a satirical magazine makes fun of Islam the way it would make fun of any other issue, French Muslims don't laugh. Most of them are silently angry or indifferent, but a minority feels empowered to resort to violence."
Bruce Crumley, the Paris bureau chief for Time magazine, went even further and criticized Charlie Hebdo for being "condemnable" and "infantile."
In response to the outrage over Charlie Hebdo's offices being firebombed, Crumley wrote: "Okay, so can we finally stop with the idiotic, divisive, and destructive efforts by 'majority sections' of Western nations to bait Muslim members with petulant, futile demonstrations that 'they' aren't going to tell 'us' what can and can't be done in free societies? Because not only are such Islamophobic antics futile and childish, but they also openly beg for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy in the name of common good."
He added: "Sorry for your loss, Charlie, and there's no justification of such an illegitimate response to your current edition. But do you still think the price you paid for printing an offensive, shameful, and singularly humor-deficient parody on the logic of 'because we can' was so worthwhile? If so, good luck with those charcoal drawings your pages will now be featuring."
After the attacks, Charbonnier, the Charlie Hebdo editor, had a different explanation for his magazine's actions, devoid of sociological explanations or how far free speech should or should not go.
"We thought the lines had moved and maybe there would be more respect for our satirical work, our right to mock," he told the Guardian. "Freedom to have a good laugh is as important as freedom of speech."
Video: Satirical French Magazine Gets Firebombed: