Following its last highly controversial issue which featured cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed, satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has printed two editions this week, one "responsible" and one "irresponsible." Last week’s cartoons mocked the explosive reaction to the film "The Innocence of Muslims" by parodying a popular French film, "Untouchables," and portrayed Muhammad in a series of poses, in one of which he is naked.
In addition to the standard issue, this week’s "responsible" edition of Charlie Hebdo contains no pictures and very little text – the clear message being that to be "responsible" is extremely limiting and does not actually mean doing real journalism. Aside from an editorial from Stéphane Charbonnier, or Charb, the weekly’s publisher, the paper only contains headlines and blank spaces. The ironic headlines include “Tunisia – all is well,” “Morocco – all is well,” “Egypt – all is well” and “Libya – all is well,” following by “Mali – all is going very well.” Others include “Prudence is the mother of safety” and “Do you know how to plant cabbages?”
In the editorial, Charb picks up on the criticisms it has be hit with during the past week and explains that “In order to satisfy Laurent Fabius [France’s foreign minister], Brice Hortefeux [an opposition MP] and Tariq Ramadan [professor of Islamic studies at Oxford], Charlie Hebdo will put no more 'oil on the fire,' nor will it 'blow on the embers,' and it will never again be 'irresponsible.'” Charlie will never again comment on breaking news, he writes, will never try to make people laugh with subjects that might shock, will never forget that they must take into account “the susceptibility of the Benghazi Salafists” and will subject its cartoons each week to a censorship committee overseen by the Union of Islamic Organisations in France, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France and representatives of the pope.
If Charlie Hebdo does this, the highly ironic editorial continues, nobody else will caricature contentious issues, and “everyone will be happy and the world will be more beautiful.”
Meanwhile, the “irresponsible” edition of Charlie Hebdo, whose offices were firebombed last year following its "Charia Hebdo" issue, features a cartoon on its cover depicting a caveman holding some oil and some fire, titled “The invention of humour.” The editorial in this issue tackles the criticism that the paper has received from a different angle. It calls for “The end of the fear of Islam,” saying that the media and public figures promote excessive fear of Muslim extremists, and, for example, "Salafist" is used particularly to inspire fear.
The editorial also responds to the criticism that Charlie Hebdo published last week’s cartoons just to make money. All media are trying to make money, Charb writes, and points out that in 20 years, Charlie Hebdo has produced this kind of bestseller issue just three times. “Why wouldn’t we do this every week, if we really did have a magic formula?” he asks.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian newspaper has responded to last week’s cartoons by publishing its own cartoon series, the BBC reported. Al-Watan, a secular daily, published a 12-page section on Monday responding to Charlie Hebdo. As well as 13 cartoons, the section included articles by well-known secular writers, the BBC said.
Charlie Hebdo's two editions, each priced at €2.50, make an interesting point and offer a convincing defence of the paper's actions. But is it always true that being "responsible" equates to being stifled? Where should the line be drawn between free expression that inspires debate, and material whose only aim is to offend?