Charlie Hebdo is at it again. The controversial French satirical newspaper announced Tuesday that it’s republishing a series of inflammatory cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, sparking concerns of a violent blowback from radical Islamists.
The cartoons will be published on Wednesday, the same day that the trial begins of 14 alleged accomplices of the terrorists who carried out deadly attacks on a kosher supermarket and the Paris offices of the newspaper in January 2015. The newspaper tweeted the cover of the edition Tuesday, which featured the cartoons along with the headline: “All that, for this.”
The central cartoon on the cover was drawn by Cabu (real name Jean Cabut), a well-known Charlie Hebdo cartoonist who was murdered in the attacks. The cartoon, originally published on the cover in February 2006 in response to the Danish cartoons controversy, shows a weeping Mohammed complaining: “It’s so hard to be loved by jerks.”
The cover also featured the notorious cartoon of the Prophet with a bomb for a turban, which was originally published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, setting off a wave of controversy and protest around the world.
“We will never lie down. We will never give up,” the publication’s director, Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau, wrote in an editorial in the new edition.
Charlie Hebdo has frequently been the target of anger and threats from Muslim fundamentalists for its ridicule of religion, including the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, which is considered sacrilegious in Islam. Prior to the 2015 massacre, its offices were firebombed in 2011 over the publication of a cartoon of the Prophet; when it doubled down by publishing more cartoons the following year, France temporarily closed schools and embassies in more than 20 countries due to fears of a violent response.
The editorial team of the newspaper wrote that it was “essential” to republish the cartoons as the trial was due to begin Wednesday.
"We have often been asked since January 2015 to print other caricatures of Mohammed," it said. “We have always refused to do so, not because it is prohibited — the law allows us to do so — but because there was a need for a good reason to do it, a reason which has meaning and which brings something to the debate.”
Extremism experts warn that the newspaper’s actions could provoke a renewed wave of violence from hardliners who considered the cartoons an insult to Islam.
Colin P. Clarke, senior research fellow at The Soufan Center, a New York-based think-tank focusing on global security issues, told VICE News that the publication of the cartoons “could very well engender a reaction from individuals who find the cartoons unnecessarily provocative and insulting to Islam.”
If reports of their publication went viral, he said, they could fuel protests in Muslim countries — or provide fodder for terror groups to recruit.
“I think incidents like this are so unpredictable, which is why, even though they are protected by free speech laws, they often seem unnecessarily provocative and counterproductive,” he said.
Tensions were already high following riots by Muslims in Malmö, Sweden over the weekend, after far-right activists filmed themselves burning a Koran near one of the city’s mosques.
“Given the rise of right-wing extremism, there is an additional layer of concern, particularly when considering the concept of reciprocal radicalization, with extremists on both sides of the spectrum fuelling each other,” he said.
Hajer Naili, communications manager at The Soufan Center, told VICE News that the previous publication of the cartoons — such as the image of the bomb-turban — had stigmatized and angered Muslims around the world.
“Many Muslims who have never condoned violence in any form were offended and felt insulted when these cartoons were published,” she said. “Republishing them will only reopen old wounds. While it is hard to predict how some individuals will react, we can fear some violent reactions.”
Twelve people — nine journalists, a maintenance worker and two police officers — were killed when Islamist gunmen, the brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, launched their assault on its Paris offices in January 2015.
In a related attack by the brother’s friend, Amédy Coulibaly, two days, later, four people were killed during a siege of a kosher supermarket.
The three gunmen were killed in police shootouts, but 14 of their associates — three of whom are being tried in absentia — are being put on trial starting Wednesday, for a range of charges including providing weapons and logistical support to the attackers.