What Does the New Charlie Hebdo Cover Mean?

Charlie Hebdo 1/14
Charlie Hebdo/Liberation

Printed with $300,000 in assistance from GoogleCharlie Hebdo returned to the stands with a post-attack edition that sold out before dawn on the day it was released, leading to an increased print run of 3 million copies – more than fifty times the previous weekly circulation of the magazine.  The cover of this edition became instantly iconic: a tearful Muhammad holding up a “Je Suis Charlie” (“I Am Charlie”) sign, the rallying cry of free speech defenders around the world. Beneath the message is the phrase “Tout Est Pardonne.” (“All Is Forgiven.”)

What, precisely, is this image supposed to mean?  Whatever it is, certain people quickly decided they didn’t like it.  Fire-breathing imam Anjem Choudary, previously tapped by USA Today to explain why free speech must be subservient to Islamic law, declared the cover an “act of war against Muslims.”  Times of India collected some more negative reactions to the cover:

Major media in many Arab and some African and Asian countries, as well as Turkey, did not show it due to Muslim sensitivity to portraying Muhammad.

Egypt’s Islamic authority denounced the Charlie Hebdo cover. Violent riots broke out there in early 2006 over Muhammad caricatures first printed by a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, and later republished by Charlie Hebdo.

“This action is an unjustified provocation against the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims,” the authority, Dar al-Ifta, said.

Many devout Muslims view any depiction of their prophet as forbidden and Charlie Hebdo‘s past caricatures of Muhammad as inflammatory insults.

That last observation is disappointing, considering how much effort Western liberals have invested lately in telling Muslims that their religion does not, in fact, forbid depictions of Muhammad.  A few more brickbats, courtesy of AFP and Yahoo News:

Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s most prestigious centre of learning, warned that new cartoons would only serve to “stir up hatred.”

The drawings “do not serve the peaceful coexistence between peoples and hinders the integration of Muslims into European and Western societies,” the Cairo-based body’s Islamic research centre said in a statement.

Earlier on Tuesday, Egypt’s state-sponsored Islamic authority, Dar al-Ifta, said the latest cover of Charlie Hebdo was “an unjustified provocation against the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims.”

“This edition will result in a new wave of hatred in French and Western society. What the magazine is doing does not serve coexistence and the cultural dialogue Muslims aspire to,” it said.

CNN related some more positive reactions from the Muslim world, along with assurances from a Charlie Hebdo columnist that the new cover was meant to be a conciliatory image, its message of forgiveness sincere:

“My initial thought is that the cover is a near perfect response to the tragedy,” said Hussein Rashid, a professor of Islamic thought at Hofstra University in New York.

“They are not backing down from the depiction of Muhammad, exercising their free speech rights. At the same time, the message is conciliatory, humble, and will hopefully reduce the anger directed to the Muslim communities of France.”

Zineb El Rhazoui, a columnist at Charlie Hebdo magazine who worked on the new issue, told the BBC that the staff didn’t want to express hatred toward the terrorists who killed her colleagues.

“The (mobilization) that happened in France after this horrible crime must open the door to forgiveness. Everyone must think about this forgiveness.”


Yahya Adel Ibrahim, an imam in Australia, counseled his 100,000 Facebook followers to follow the example of Muhammad, even if they encounter images that they believe are blasphemous.

“As it is clear that the cartoons are to be published again, Muslims will inevitably be hurt and angered, but our reaction must be a reflection of the teachings of the one we love & are angered for,” Ibrahim said. “Enduring patience, tolerance, gentleness and mercy was the character of our beloved Prophet.”


Many Muslims seemed content not to comment on Hebdo‘s latest depiction of their prophet, or to pay it no mind.

“Let us ignore the provocations and defamation and get about the work of being a source of good and mercy to all we may come into contact with,” Imam Zaid Shakir, a popular cleric and scholar from California, posted on Facebook this week. “May Allah bless you all and make things easy for you and your families during these trying times.”

Nevertheless, CNN refused to reprint the image of the Charlie Hebdo cover, in keeping with the elaborate new posture of “religious respect and tolerance” certain Western media outlets have devised to cover their abject fear and submission.  As Erik Wemple at The Washington Post noted, not only has CNN been quite willing to run images offensive to religions other than Islam, they haven’t exactly applied stringent editorial standards to al-Qaeda’s propaganda magazine, Inspire, even though it frequently seeks to inspire the murder of infidels.

The sheer absurdity of major media outlets running top stories about an image they adamantly refuse to show – even when the thrust of the story is that many observers are interpreting the Charlie Hebdo cover as a sincerely thoughtful gesture – is too rich to be easily digested.  The CNN article linked above even includes the standard boilerplate about how the Koran doesn’t really forbid depictions of Islam.  We’ve heard endless declarations from the Obama White House and its media allies that the Charlie Hebdo killers in no way represented Islam, and neither does anyone else from the “tiny minority of extremists” who stand ready to enforce strict Islamic law upon non-believers with violence.  And yet, they still won’t transmit the “All Is Forgiven” cover to their viewers?  Why, one might almost get the impression that they don’t entirely believe their own political and editorial pronouncements!

From the above, we can clearly see that some are interpreting the new Charlie Hebdo cover as a friendly overture, or at least dismissing it as a cheeky provocation that isn’t worth getting upset about, while others are reading it as an insult, or a violation of the Islamic law that Western liberals keep insisting a huge number of Muslims don’t understand.  What does it really mean?

AFP quotes the cover artist, Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Renald “Luz” Luzier, who escaped death at the hands of the Kouachi brothers because he was running late for work that day: “Our Muhammad is above all just a guy who is crying.  He is much nicer than the one followed by the gunmen.”  That might not go over too well with some of his magazine’s fiercest critics.

It has been observed that Luz’ rendering of Muhammad evokes a certain section of the male anatomy:

Also, the Charlie Hebdo cover has Muhammad mimicking first lady Michelle Obama’s famous attempt to influence the savages of Boko Haram with a sad-face picture of herself holding up a sign bearing the “#BringBackOurGirls” Twitter hashtag.  Is the artist making an impish comment on the uselessness of hashtag activism?  Is he saying that people who aren’t entirely devoted to free speech cannot absolve themselves of cowardice by spending a few days marching around with an “I Am Charlie” sign?  Given how often the aphorism “the pen is mightier than the sword” has been bandied about over the past week, a man who narrowly missed learning how effectively swords (and bullets) can silence pens might be thinking of another saying: “actions speak louder than words.”

Art is open to many interpretations, including some the artist might not have intended.  Charlie Hebdo‘s new cover could be a gesture of defiance, an offer of forgiveness, an attempt to read Islamist extremists out of Muslim tradition, a challenge for moderate Muslims to take a stand against violent extremism, a satirical jab at those who insist the Kouachi brothers and their ilk have nothing to do with Islam, and a skewering of lazy Western fair-weather activism, all at once.


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