Following a January 7 shooting spree in Paris that left 12 dead, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had drawn cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, became an international symbol of free speech. Social media exploded with #JeSuisCharlie solidarity hashtags, money poured into the almost-bankrupt paper, and the literary organization PEN announced it would present its courage award to the French paper.
Several months later, the weekly magazine is coming under increasing fire for its provocative content and at least one of its most prominent staffers has announced his resignation, citing unbearable stress.
In an interview with the French newspaper Libération published on Monday, the cartoonist Renald Luzier, known as Luz, said he would leave Charlie Hebdo in September because the pressure has become "too much to bear."
“Each issue is torture, because the others are gone,” Mr. Luzier said, suggesting the trauma he experienced surviving his colleagues. “Spending sleepless nights summoning the dead, wondering what Charb, Cabu, Honoré, Tignous would have done is exhausting,” he added, referring to the staffers who were killed by two Islamist brothers.
Luz came under particular fire from some Muslims for drawing the polarizing cover of the prophet Muhammad weeping for the first issue of Charlie Hebdo after the January attack on its Paris office.
In Islam, a depiction of Muhammad today is considered blasphemous by many Muslims, and the Charlie Hebdo cover was seen by some Muslims as particularly provocative. It ultimately incited tens of thousands of Muslim protesters to take to the streets around the world. It also sparked a global debate about free speech and religious sensitivities.
In recent weeks, Charlie Hebdo increasingly appears to have found itself on the wrong side of the debate. A PEN Awards ceremony honoring the French magazine for courage drew international attention when dozens of writers signed a petition protesting the organization's award.
In April, more than 30 writers, including Joyce Carol Oates, Junot Diaz, and Francine Prose, signed a petition criticizing PEN's decision to award Charlie Hebdo, accusing the French publication of mocking a “section of the French population that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized."
Even then, Luz told the French magazine Les Inrockuptibles that he would no longer draw Muhammad, saying, “He no longer interests me.”
He elaborated on his decision in Monday's interview with Liberation, saying "It's a very personal choice," and adding, "It became one of my obsessions after all this craziness to rebuild myself, to retake control of myself."
For Luz, that control comes, in part, by publishing a new book detailing how he grappled with the post-Charlie Hebdo stress.
"Catharsis,” "a therapeutic book," as Luz describes it, is filled with the cartoonist's thoughts and drawings from the weeks following the attack. In it, he describes how his life has changed since the attack, including a round-the-clock police presence, and how he dealt with the nightmares he has had since his colleagues were killed. It comes out this week.