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Home > Resources > UK: Initial reactions on massacre at Charlie Hebdo’s - with images

UK: Initial reactions on massacre at Charlie Hebdo’s - with images

Monday 19 January 2015

The Guardian - 7 January 2015
Charlie Hebdo’s spirit will endure, despite this atrocity

France has lost some of its most courageous satirical journalists, but it is not about to lose a magazine that has targeted the powerful like no other

by Jessica Reed

stephane charbonnier
The Charlie Hebdo editor, Stephane Charbonnier, was reportedly killed in the attack. Photograph: Luc Monnet/AFP/Getty Images

Every December, among the usual Christmas trees and seasonal celebrations, there’s another ritual I like to follow. I buy the Reporters Sans Frontières (reporters without borders) yearly photography book, in support of journalists killed in the line of duty.

The countries where journalists are harassed and terrorised for their work usually reads like a litany of places troubled by great geopolitical turmoil: Syria, Palestine, Ukraine, Egypt, Mexico. France will certainly now have a place at the top of the 2015 list, something that I find to be both unbelievable and nauseating.

reporters sans frontieres tally 2014 Reporters Without border’s 2014 tally. Photograph: RSF

Today’s attack was chillingly clinical in its execution: Wednesdays are Charlie Hebdo’s day for editorial meetings, and Libération reports that the attackers asked to be led to specific journalists – including Stephane Charbonnier, who was known as Charb, the editor. Charb said in a 2012 interview that “he preferred to die standing up than to live on his knees”, and that “humour was a language which terrorists did not understand”. For the sake of his memory, perhaps we should pledge to be free, and laugh, a whole lot more.

This is the worst terrorist act in France since 1995, when a bomb planted by the Algerian Armed Islamic Group exploded in the Saint Michel subway station, killing eight and injuring more than 100. This is also perhaps the worst attack on freedom of the press France has known since the second world war.

If confirmed to have been executed in the name of Islamist extremism, the attack will tear the country apart, in spite of marches of solidarity already being organised by many political groups, including anti-racism and Muslim organisations. There is little doubt that the National Front will try to capitalise on the tragedy, especially in a European context where religious and racial tensions are growing by the day: Ukip’s surge at the polls in Britain, the anti-Muslim marches organised by Pegida in Germany, and Golden Dawn’s influence in Greece all testify to it.

In other words, grim days are ahead for the French.

charlie Hebdo’s pope cover One of many of Charlie Hebdo’s covers targeting the Pope Photograph: Charlie Hebdo

But crucially, the national media landscape will now be an amputee, having lost some of its most brilliant satirical journalists. Charlie Hebdo, for all its faults, showed courage like no other publication. Yes, its decision to print a cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad can be seen as questionable and inflammatory. But, as the veteran journalist Mark Colvin remarked this morning, Charlie Hebdo is an absolute equal-opportunity offender of satire: everything and everyone was fair game, starting with the pope (for whom they reserved special sardonic treatment) and all other religious leaders.

Charlie hebdo femen Charlie Hebdo’s cover in support of Femen Photograph: Charlie Hebdo

Other targets included all politicians, arrogant celebrities, corrupt elected officials, pompous writers and philosophers, anti-feminists (the paper was a vocal defender of Femen) and assorted censorious forces. No one was spared by their words, no one could escape the ire of its cartoons.

Charlie Hebdo partly shaped my political views as a teenager. I especially remember the delight I felt when it called for a huge mobilisation in my hometown, Tours, before Jean Paul II’s visit, damning the Catholic church for its position on condom use. I remember the grace and humanism of a column it gave to Patrick Pelloux, an ER doctor working in a poor suburb, detailing how the healthcare system was failing the poorest among us. I remember its tireless commitment to defending women, especially to the right to have an abortion and the right to have a sex life without shame.

As I write this, Charlie’s website is a heartbreaking sight: a badge with the words “Je suis Charlie”. Indeed, if we are to stand for a free press, today we are all Charlie. The magazine’s spirit may have received a terrible blow, but its spirit will endure, and survive.