Many opine about this now-famous Nov. 2011, issue of Charlie Hebdo, but few seem willing to let non-French speakers judge for themselves beyond its covers. I decided to herein offer my own.
This is the “Sharia Hebdo” special edition, with “guest editor” Muhammad himself. The November 2011 firebombing of CH offices occurred on the day the issue was to appear in newsstands. Not only did the bombing fail to halt the issue’s release, the magazine responded by distributing over double the usual number of copies. The issue is usually touted as the breaking point that paved the way for the massacre of its staff this month by Islamist terrorists.
The upcoming issue had previously been announced with the statement: “To fittingly celebrate the victory of the Islamist Ennahda party in Tunisia… Charlie Hebdo has asked Muhammad to be the special editor-in-chief of its next issue. The prophet of Islam didn’t have to be asked twice and we thank him for it.” In an interview, a spokesman said: “What made us do this was what was happening in Tunisia and in Libya, where we have seen the reappearance of Sharia… Ultimately, Mohammed can be a funny, nice character.”
Like many, I’ve been bemused by recent rants describing the issue, and the magazine in general, as racist, homophobic, misogynist, xenophobic, punching down on the marginalized, with no goal but pointless spiteful bullying… In other words, pretty much all that’s opposite of the leftwing values the staff have said they hold in interviews. How could such an output be described by the French as far-left satirists? It made no sense. Is Charlie Hebdo actually all these ugly things? Or are non-French writers with agendas willfully missing a Stephen Colbert-like satire?
There’s much more to the edition than the excerpts below, but here are the best-known sections. It has sixteen pages, not all cartoons, with plenty of text. (The issue in its entirety is available in pdf here). There’s plenty more context in there to help assess the magazine’s intent.
What I found bears no resemblance to the illiberal ugliness that many, who I suspect never read it, purport. Instead, I found a progressive indictment of the oppression of women, gays and dissenters under authoritarian Islamic theocracies, and of their inhuman sharia justice system. Most surprisingly to me, Muhammad himself is depicted as a good-natured, rare voice of reason. Judge for yourself.
Please feel free to suggest translation corrections, improvements, additions or context in the comments.