At about 11:30 am local time this Wednesday, French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo fired off a tweet depicting the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, with the caption, “Best wishes and good health.” Just minutes later, three gunmen stormed the Paris offices of the paper and shot dead 10 of its staff, including four cartoonists.
According to the paper’s editor-in-chief, there were no specific threats of violence on their radar at the time of the attacks.
But Charlie Hebdo has been a target for a long time, thanks to a long history of intentionally controversial and provocative cartoons and covers. First founded in 1970 when its predecessor was shut down by the French government (for making fun of Charles de Gaulle—more below), then again in 1992 after ten years out of print, Charlie Hebdo is like a more gleefully and pointedly offensive politically conscious French Mad magazine (with which it shares an affection for vulgarity and distaste for subtlety). Charlie’s stance is vocally left, anti-authoritarian, anti-religious, and anti-institutional, but it tends to get the most attention when it undertakes one of its yearly-or-so projects illustrating Muhammad cartoons.
Below is a brief rundown of some of their most controversial cover images, via The Daily Beast:
‘Sharia Hebdo’ (2011)
In 2011, playing off the similar pronunciations of “Charlie” and “Sharia” in French, Charlie Hebdo renamed its Nov. 2nd issue Charia Hebdo, and announced the Prophet Muhammad as a “guest editor” to celebrate the victory of the Tunisian Islamist party Ennahada in the country’s recent elections. The cover showed Muhammad declaring, “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!” At 1 a.m. the day the issue appeared, a single Molotov cocktail was thrown into the magazine’s office in the 20th Arrondissement of Paris, destroying all of the property and equipment inside. Charlie Hebdo’s website was also hacked and replaced by the single phrase “No god but Allah.”
‘Muhammad Overwhelmed’ (2006)
Arguably Charlie Hebdo’s most controversial cover, the Feb. 9, 2006, issue featured a weeping Muhammad with the headline, “Muhammad Overwhelmed by Fundamentalists.” (In the dialogue bubble, he’s saying, “It’s hard being loved by assholes.”) But the real offense was what was inside: the 12 cartoons originally published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that caricatured Islam’s holiest prophet.
‘Charlie Hebdo Must Be Veiled!’ (2007)
Lest you think Charlie Hebdo reserves all its vicious covers for Muslims, be assured it’s an equal-opportunity offender. Before its editor was acquitted of charges from the Muhammad cartoons, Charlie Hebdo published a special issue of cartoons with a cover depicting a Jew, the pope, and an Islamic fundamentalist shouting, “Charlie Hebdo must be veiled!”
‘I Slept With My Dad to Get Ahead!’ (2009)
Religion is far from the magazine’s only punching bag: French politicians provide lots of material as well. This cover mocked the nepotism of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who tried to get his 23-year-old son, then a first-year law student, a job running Paris’s most important financial district.
‘Wear the Burqa … on the Inside!’ (2010)
Amid a burning controversy in France over a law banning Muslim women from wearing burqas in public, Charlie Hebdo expressed its support for the ban with the headline “Yes to wearing the burqa … on the inside!” In case anyone missed the meaning, the accompanying cartoon laid it bare.
‘Vote Asshole’ (1971)
Just three years after the student riots of 1968, French cartoonist Georges Wolinski drew the cover cartoon with a caption that captured Charlie Hebdo’s withering antigovernment bent and became an instant classic: “Vote asshole … you don’t have a choice.” The phrase still pops up in French graffiti today.
‘I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!’ (2006)
Television is a perennial object of the magazine’s wrath, particularly programs perceived as representing American cultural imperialism. (This cover, for example, declared, “Television will change French habits.”) In 2006 the magazine savaged the French television network TF1 for picking up reality shows. “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!” yells a cartoon Jesus, poking fun at the title of the American survival show featuring celebrity has-beens.
‘The Pope Goes Too Far’ (2010)
This cover, one of many mocking the Catholic Church, depicted Pope Benedict XVI holding a Durex condom aloft, declaring “This is my body!”—a line from the Christian eucharist that refers to Christ’s crucifixion. The cover came after a series of confusing statements by the pope about the rare instances in which the church approves of condom use to prevent disease.
‘Look, No Hands!’ (2001)
Leave it to Charlie Hebdo to dare to run a humorous take on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks just weeks after the fact. The magazine’s Nov. 14, 2001, issue showed Osama bin Laden joking about pulling off the attacks on New York with “no hands.”
‘DSK for President!’ (2011)
The news that Dominique Strauss-Kahn had been arrested in New York in May on charges of sexual harassment caused a tsunami in French politics. The director of the International Monetary Fund had been a leading candidate for the French presidency in 2012, but his tarnished reputation meant the Socialist Party would face an internal war to find a new candidate. In July, Charlie Hebdo celebrated the chaos with this cover, showing DSK parading through a confetti-like shower of condoms.
John Galliano’s Mannequin (2011)
Dior designer John Galliano consumed the buzz at prêt-a-porter fashion week in Paris in February after he screamed anti-Semitic insults during a bar fight in Paris. (He was eventually convicted by a French court.) Charlie Hebdo jumped at the chance to combine two of its longstanding targets, celebrities and French right-wingers. The cover showed Marine Le Pen, the daughter of the far-right politician who founded France’s National Front party, as a mannequin in Galliano’s fashion house. Le Pen is currently challenging President Nicolas Sarkozy from the right in the 2012 presidential election.
‘Michael Jackson, White at Last’ (2009)
As far as Charlie Hebdo was concerned, Michael Jackson got what he’d always wanted.
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