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‘No reason’ for Prophet Mohammed to be on new Charlie Hebdo cover, says editor

FRANCE 24 screengrab

As the latest Charlie Hebdo issue hit the newsstands Wednesday, editor Gérard Biard told FRANCE 24 that it’s back to business, with the magazine taking on familiar bêtes noires, which do not include Islam.


The second Charlie Hebdo issue to be published since the January 7 deadly attack on the weekly features a dog with a copy of the magazine clamped in its jaws, being chased by a herd of figures. They include far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, the pope, a jihadist and a businessman.

“Here we go again!” reads the headline.

Speaking to FRANCE 24 on Wednesday, Biard said that, “[The Prophet] Mohammed had no reason to be on this one”, noting that the new issue marks a return to lampooning the old establishment figures. “It [takes on] the old pests who have never let us down, and [the Prophet] Mohammed is not a pain-in-the-ass -- that was an image manipulated by the terrorists.”

Following the attack by the al Qaeda-inspired brothers, Said and Chérif Kouachi, in retaliation for printing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, Charlie Hebdo staff have been working from the offices of left-leaning French daily, Libération.

Seven weeks after the attack, which killed 12 people, Charlie Hebdo journalists are still reeling from the loss of their colleagues, said the magazine’s editor. "We work as usual, but normality is not the same as before,” said Biard. “We have to stay true to what we were. We cannot stop commenting on the news [even though] fear is now a part of putting out the paper.”

Controversies mean good business

But while the editorial line at the left-leaning, anti-establishment weekly has returned to familiar terrain, business has not been the same at the magazine that was once on the edge of bankruptcy.

The first issue after the January 7 attack -- also called “the survivors’ issue” -- sold nearly eight million copies, more than 200 times the normal level, which is expected to generate about €12 million after printing and distribution expenses, according to the Wall Street Journal. The magazine has also attracted 250,000 new subscribers who each spent roughly €100 for a year's subscription, and it received around €4 million in donations, a lawyer for the weekly told the US newspaper.

Featuring a caricature of a teary-eyed Prophet Mohammed holding a “Je Suis Charlie” sign, the survivors’ issue also triggered protests in many Muslim-majority countries, including Niger, where ten people were killed, dozens wounded and at least nine churches burned.

Analyzing the magazine’s profit-and-loss figures since 2002, the Wall Street Journal concluded that controversial issues featuring Prophet Mohammed caricatures had been good for business at the loss-making weekly. This included a November 2011 issue -- dubbed “Shariah Hebdo” -- which sparked an arson attack on the paper’s old offices.

Politics, not Islam, obsesses Charlie

Critics of the left-wing satirical have maintained that Charlie Hebdo has an “obsession” with Islam and that it has consistently baited Muslims.

But in a content analysis study of 523 Charlie Hebdo covers from 2005 (a year before the magazine published its first Prophet Mohammed cartoons) to January 2015, a study found no evidence that the satirical weekly was “obsessed” with Islam.

The study, commissioned by leading French daily Le Monde, found that an overwhelming two-thirds of the covers (336 out of 523) focused on politics. Only 7% -- or 38 – lampooned religious themes or figures. A breakup of the 38 covers dealing with religion found Christianity bore the brunt of Charlie Hebdo satirists’ pens (21), while only seven issues had taken on Islam.

The left-leaning Le Monde concluded that, in keeping with its reputation, Charlie Hebdo is “an irreverent, leftist journal, undeniably anti-racist but uncompromising in its criticism of all religious obscurantism – including Muslims.”

Speaking to FRANCE 24, Charlie Hebdo editor Biard said he especially regretted the lack of support last month from some media, which declined to publish or broadcast the magazine cover. "We do not fight enough for freedom of expression,” said Biard, noting that when SkyNews refuses to broadcast a Charlie Hebdo cover, “in essence, it is refusing to broadcast an idea, the value of secularism".


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