PARIS: The massacre at French weekly Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday took place after years of confrontation between the satirical publication and militants infuriated by attacks on Islam.

Its offices were fire-bombed in Nov 2011 when it published caricatures of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), but there were no casualties in that attack.

Its latest issue’s front page highlighted yet another polemic about Islam, with a focus on controversial French author Michel Houellebecq and his latest book, “Soumission”, which imagines a France in 2022 under Muslim rule.

The weekly publication, which seeks to provoke, amuse and inform mostly through irreverent cartoons, was under police protection when Wednesday’s assault happened because of the constant threat it was working under. Two policemen were among those killed.

The weekly started in 1970, taking inspiration for its name from the American comic book character Charlie Brown and with the aim of mocking celebrities, political leaders and religions. It never changed course, even as the threats piled up.

In 2006, Charlie Hebdo angered Muslims when it reprinted 12 cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) published by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in a statement for freedom of expression. The cartoons, including one which showed a bomb in place of a turban, prompted violent protests in Muslim countries.

Threats, hacks: In 2008, France’s courts acquitted Charlie Hebdo of a charge of “insulting Muslims”, saying its cartoons were “clearly” aimed at extremist Islamists and not the entire Muslim community.

The paper’s offices were set alight in 2011 by what the government claimed were “fundamentalist Muslims” after it changed its masthead to “Sharia Hebdo” and published images that further antagonised the community.

The newspaper’s website was also hacked several times. In 2011, its home screen was replaced with a photo of Makkah with the message “No God but Allah”.

In 2012, more caricatures printed by Charlie Hebdo sparked fierce criticism in many Muslim countries, forcing the French government to react.

Charlie Hebdo sells 30,000 copies in an average week, and recently appealed for donations to stay afloat.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2015

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