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When Satire Meets Islamic Fundamentalism: Are We All Charlie?

When Satire Meets Islamic Fundamentalism: Are We All Charlie?

Frank Griffel

Professor of Islamic Studies, Department of Religious Studies, Yale University; and Chair of the Council on Middle East Studies, Yale University.


After the attacks of January 7 on the editorial offices of “Charlie Hebdo” and the hostage taking at a Jewish supermarket two days later, yet another Western country asked itself why do they attack us? Why do they hate us? France experiences a moment of bewilderment and soul-searching similar to the one the US went through after the attacks of September 2001 and to what took place in Britain after July 5, 2005. The gut-reaction of nations struck by such horrific acts of terrorism is to say: We have done nothing wrong. In fact, the collective wearing of signs with “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) says: We would do it all over again. Last week, almost a whole nation lined up at French newsstands to buy the first issue of “Charlie Hebdo” after the attacks on the satirical magazine. It showed yet another caricature of a dark-skinned man in white jelabiyya and turban carrying the now famous “Je suis Charlie” sign. The headline above the drawing of the man reads: Tout est pardonné, all is forgiven. Regular readers of the journal know the man with the brown skin, white jelabiyya, and turban well. It is a familiar depiction of the prophet Muhammad as drawn by the caricaturist Luz, a member of Charlie Hebdo’s staff, who survived the attack on its office simply because he happened to be out at the time. For the magazine’s frequent readers the front page needed no further explanation. Foreign observers, however, did not understand so quickly and when a journalist of asked him to explain, Luz said that the drawing is a callback to an earlier 2011 cover showing the Prophet Muhammad with the words: “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter.” On the day that cover appeared, the offices of Charlie Hebdo were attacked by a firebomb. Luz explained Charlie Hebdo’s motivation for the most recent cover as, “to show that at any given moment, we have the right to do anything, to redo anything, and to use our characters the way we want to.”


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Science, Religion and Culture


Vol. 5, Sp. Iss. 1 Pages 1-82


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