Twelve are dead today after assault rifle-equipped masked attackers opened fire inside satirical periodical Charlie Hebdo’s Parisian headquarters. They include 47-year-old editor Stéphane Charbonnier, cartoonists Cabu, Honoré and Wolinski, as well as economist Bernard Maris and two police escorts who were standing guard. Reports stated the gunmen shouted Allahu Akbar (God is great in Arabic) upon their exit, firing at first responders.
“I would like to say directly to the people of Paris and of all of France, that each and every American stands with you today not just in horror or in anger or in outrage for this vicious act of violence, but we stand with you in solidarity and in commitment, both to the cause of confronting extremism, and in the cause which the extremist fear so much—and which has always united our two countries—freedom,” Secretary of State John Kerry
President Obama would later call the attack "cowardly" and "evil."
Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier, became editor of the incendiary magazine known for its envelope-pushing cartoons in 2009. He witness a firebombing in 2011 when they ran an issue guest-edited by Muhammad, featuring the prophet on the cover with the caption "100 lashes if you don't die laughing." A call to have Charbonnier beheaded followed the next year and the inclusion of his name in Al-Qaeda’s most-wanted list in 2013.
The weekly, out every Wednesday, first appeared in 1969 and folded in the early '80s. The second iteration of the self-professed "irresponsible journal" later resurrected in 1992. It teetered on the edge of good taste with its satirical depictions of race, religion and social politics. The paper reprinted all 12 Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons, adding a few extra to the mix; they called gay marriage "so last year" on the cover, opting to shift focus to gay divorce and during the 2012 US presidential election ran a cartoon of Mitt Romney calling for "an actual white" in the White House.
"I am not afraid of reprisals, I have no children, no wife, no car, no debt," Charb told Le Monde that year about the paper's button-pushing nature. "It might sound a bit pompous, but I'd prefer to die on my feet rather than living on my knees."
In wake of the Jan. 7 attack, social media responded with messages of outrage, mourning and solidarity using the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie
The above cartoon by Le Parisian asks "Why?" and equates a pump rifle to a pencil,
a Kalashnikov rifle to a fountain pen and an eraser to a hand grenade.
"Let's rise in arms, comrades!" reads this one from Chilean illustrator Francisco J Olea.
New York-based cartoonist Danny Hellman quickly reacted to the killings across his social platforms. A freelance cartoonist, Hellman's often thought-provoking and sometimes subversive works have appeared in the likes of Screwed, Time and The Wall Street Journal.
"Cartooning is not usually that heroic of a profession," Hellman tells SFR. "Cartoonists huddle in their rooms and draw quietly, by themselves. They're pretty shy and retiring, but these are cartoonists who died heroically. I don't know another way to think about it, because they saw it coming. They were up against this for years."
Those unfamiliar with the name will surely recall Hellman’s illustration for
, which depicted a young woman borrowing emblematic elements associated with those of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
"It wasn't something that entered my mind when I was drawing that Virgin of Guadalupe cover," Hellman says about fear of retaliation over his work. "I never imagined that it was gonna get anybody mad; maybe that was just naïve on my part. I guess that the other thing is, that you don't have that same hair-trigger, violent response with Christians or Jews or Buddhists that you do with Muslims, unfortunately."
Responses, however, were far from flowery. Then editor Alexa Schirtzinger's inbox and voice mail were flooded by hate messages. When they were done with her, they switched over to me. "I picked you because I'm guessing by your name that you're Mexican," one caller told me.
I particularly remember one email stating that I "communed with Satan." Several messages (all written by men), suggested that we run an image of Schirtzinger's vagina in the cover. If not, perhaps one of my mother or dead grandmother's vagina. I tried to respond to most. The correlation of a work of art that in the eyes of some parodied a top-tier deity and the all-vagina-all-the-time reaction I experienced is still a head-scratcher. As this publication's Arts & Culture editor and someone who incidentally was raised Catholic, I still stand by that image and what, in the bigger picture, it represents.
So, why should you care about today's events? You're not an editor, you're not a cartoonist, you're not French.
Salman Rushdie, no stranger to controversy himself, said it best in a May 2012 op-ed for the New Yorker titled "On Censorship," where he equated liberty to something free that is easily taken for granted. Something like air.
"Imagine, now, that somewhere up there you might find a giant set of faucets, and that the air we breathe flows from those faucets, hot air and cold air and tepid air from some celestial mixer-unit. And imagine that an entity up there, not known to us, or perhaps even known to us, begins on a certain day to turn off the faucets one by one, so that slowly we begin to notice that the available air, still breathable, still free, is thinning. The time comes when we find that we are breathing more heavily, perhaps even gasping for air. By this time, many of us would have begun to protest, to condemn the reduction in the air supply, and to argue loudly for the right to freely available, broadly breathable air. Scarcity, you could say, creates demand.
Liberty is the air we breathe, and we live in a part of the world where, imperfect as the supply is, it is, nevertheless, freely available, at least to those of us who aren’t black youngsters wearing hoodies in Miami, and broadly breathable, unless, of course, we’re women in red states trying to make free choices about our own bodies. Imperfectly free, imperfectly breathable, but when it is breathable and free we don’t need to make a song and dance about it. We take it for granted and get on with our day. And at night, as we fall asleep, we assume we will be free tomorrow, because we were free today."