A London Times Editorial–Nous Sommes Tous Charlie

This was by some estimates the worst terrorist attack in France since the Algerian war of independence. It followed exhortations from Islamic State in Syria to kill French civilians with any weapon available, but responsibility was claimed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It is not clear what was behind the timing. Minutes before the gunmen struck, Charlie Hebdo had released a tweet mocking Islamic State’s leader, but this was mild next to the magazine’s earlier broadsides on everything that Islamists hold sacred. In past years it has reprinted the Danish cartoons of Muhammad that prompted riots on several continents. It has printed a spoof issue “guest edited” by the Prophet, and a cover cartoon of an Imam trying and failing to use the Koran to stop bullets.

“I don’t blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings,” Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief, Stéphane Charbonnier, once said. Neither did he apologise. “I live under French law . . . [not] Koranic law.”

Mr Charbonnier is now dead. While he lived he upheld a priceless tradition of broad and often brutal satire, no punches pulled, no prisoners taken. He and his colleagues were equal opportunity offenders. Islamists were often their targets precisely because of their unconscionable threats and spurious claim to special status. But so were Catholic clergy, cardinals, the Pope and, for what it’s worth, the British.

When President Hollande called Charlie Hebdo a “symbol of liberty”, it was no empty cliché….

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