Charlie Hebdo’s weapon of choice: Resilient irreverence

The satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, transformed into global symbol by last January's terrorist attacks, responds to Paris' latest trauma with fierce joie de vivre. 

Daniel Ochoa de Olza/ AP
A man holding a Charlie Hebdo paper pays his respect at Le Carillon, a cafe-bar in Paris, on Sunday, November 15. Twelve people died in shootings at the cafe and a nearby restaurant in Friday's terrorist attack, which killed 129 across the city.

On Jan. 7, two brothers claiming to belong to the Yemeni branch of terrorist group Al Qaeda stormed the offices of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, shooting eight employees and visitors in revenge for the satirical magazine's cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Seemingly overnight, the phrase "Je Suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) became a ubiquitous cry for freedom of expression – particularly the freedom to offend. 

But even as donations and sales revenue have poured into the magazine's temporary offices, the magazine's artists have fiercely debated how to move forward as not only a business, but a critical voice in French culture.

On Wednesday, Charlie Hebdo hit newsstands for the first time since Friday's terror attacks in Paris with its typical irreverence, reassuring many Parisians that the magazine, and Paris, could retain their humor, defiance, and joie de vivre, even if cringingly bittersweet. 

"They have the weapons. [Expletive], we have the champagne!" the latest cover image shouts. 

Dancing and gulping away, the cover's jeans-clad figure doesn't seem to mind symmetrical fountains of champagne pouring out of what are presumably bullet holes on his chest and legs.

Is it too soon for humor after the Paris attacks? The magazine's Mathieu Madénian first shared the cover on Twitter, where Charlie Hebdo's typical impiety seemed to be appreciated by many after a weekend of mourning.

"Thank you for existing #CharlieHebdo even if I don't buy #JeSuisCharlie," tweeted Junzi

The latest cover was drawn by Coco, the cartoonist whom the Kouchis forced to open the office's doors.

According to the Washington Post, the magazine's staff have been under police protection since the January massacre, and heightened emotions have intensified debates about Charlie Hebdo's future direction, particularly over how much control its main editors should wield. Some thought that the magazine should stop including depictions of the prophet Muhammad, something many Muslims find offensive.

Yet within a week of the January attack, staff had produced a new issue, which sold 8 million copies. 

Muhammad was again on the cover, clutching a "Je Suis Charlie" placard as a tear rolled down his face. "ALL IS FORGIVEN," Luz wrote above the figure.

"It made me laugh," he told Libération magazine. "Of course all is forgiven, old Muhammad. We can overcome because I've managed to draw you."  

"The issue won't be an homage," the magazine's lawyer, Richard Malka, told Le Monde. "That's not the spirit of Charlie Hebdo."

The publication's tenor has not changed since then, but content has. Both Luz and editor Laurent "Riss" Sourisseau have announced that Muhammad cartoons, long controversial among Muslims and non-Muslims alike, will not appear in future editions.

"We've done our job. We have defended the right to caricature," Mr. Sourisseau said, explaining that, although the magazine had criticized all religions, he wanted to avoid the impression that Charlie Hebdo was fixated on Islam. 

But the Prophet-less cover released Wednesday underscores one of Parisians' main refrains after Friday's attacks: life will continue.

"Without realising it, the Parisians of 2015 have sort of become the Londoners of 1940, determined not to yield, neither to fear nor to resignation, whatever catches them off guard," Sourisseau wrote in this week's editorial. 

Interviewed by CNN's Anderson Cooper, former Charlie Hebdo columnist and first responder Patrick Pelloux pointed to a nearby cafe. "This is the resistance," he said. 

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