Advertisement
VICE News

Six Months After Deadly Attack, 'Charlie Hebdo' Editor Will No Longer Draw Prophet Muhammad

Editor Laurent Sourisseau says that he feels that the magazine has done its job defending the "right to caricature."

by Tess Owen
Jul 20 2015, 7:40pm

Photo by Carlos Villalba/EPA

Correction: Representatives of Charlie Hebdo confirmed to VICE News in Thursday that Laurent Sourisseau never stated that he or the magazine will stop drawing the Prophet Muhammad.

"As it has been corrected by most of the French media, Riss [Sourisseau] never wished to express his wish to stop drawing the Prophet Muhammad," the magazine told VICE News. "This is a misinterpretation of a German journalist who interviewed him for Stern. Riss will continue to draw the Prophet like he has always done, in the case where the news would justify it, no less."

---

The editor of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo will no longer publish drawings that depict the Prophet Muhammad, according to a recent interview.

"We have drawn Muhammad to defend the principle that one can draw whatever they want. It is a bit strange though: we are expected to exercise a freedom of expression that no one dares to," Laurent Sourisseau told the Hamburg-based news magazine Stern when revealing the decision.

In January, two men who claimed to be acting in the name of the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda attacked the magazine's Paris offices. Said and Cherif Kouachi stormed into an editorial meeting wielding assault rifles and other weapons, shot 11 people dead and injured 11 others. The two were motivated by satirical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad that had appeared in the periodical. Prior to the attack, the most recent cartoon depicting Muhammad was published in November 2014 — showing someone from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) beheading the Prophet.

In the initial aftermath of the attacks, the cry of both solidarity and in defense of free speech — "Je Suis Charlie" — erupted across social media and in rallies and vigils across France and beyond.

But as the dust settled in the massacre's aftermath, a conversation about the parameters of free speech began.

Related: Exclusive Interview with 'Charlie Hebdo' Cartoonist Luz

Those defending the absurdist cartoons of Charlie Hebdo say that for the publication, everyone fair game — it lampoons French political figures, the Pope, and other religious figures alike. Others argued that the magazine went too far, and had crossed the threshold of political humor.

As the debate continued, the magazine's first issue after the attack featured a crying Mohammed on the cover with the accompanying phrase "Tout est pardonné" ("All is forgiven").

In the interview with Stern, Sourisseau — who survived the attack by pretending to be dead — stressed that the editors of Charlie Hebdo believe they retained their right "to criticize all religions."

Prior to the attack, Charlie Hebdo was verging on bankruptcy. After the incidents, millions of euros poured in through subscriptions and donations, sparking an internal debate about the management and how to distribute the new wealth. Le Monde wrote that the editors were struggling to find new writers and cartoonists who were willing to sign their real names to controversial cartoons, as many feared retaliation from critics.

The Muslim community has condemned Charlie Hebdo's portrayals of Muhammad in the past. In 2006, the French Council for the Muslim Faith filed a lawsuit against the publication for a cover story depicting the Prophet crouching, in tears, under the headline "Mahomet débordé par les intégristes" ("Mohammed overwhelmed by fundamentalists"). That issue contained a further 12 images of the Prophet, and was widely cited as what prompted the attacks.

Sourisseau told Stern that the decision to stop depicting Muhammad does not signal cowardice, and is no indication the publishers have become "possessed by Islam." Instead, Sourisseau stressed that they had exercised their right to free speech and are putting the controversy to bed.

"We've done our job," Sourisseau told Stern. "We have defended the right to caricature."

Since the January attack, anti-Islamists in the United States have since appropriated the "right to caricature" by holding large scale "draw Muhammad contests." In May, two gunmen opened fire on a contest that was held in a suburb of Dallas, shooting and injuring a security guard at the event before the police shot the gunmen dead