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Charlie Hebdo, a satirical rag that has never shied away from controversy

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Charlie Hebdo, a satirical rag that has never shied away from controversy


French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” grew out of “Hara-Kiri” and a group of similarly anarchic and iconoclastic political comics that appeared in France in the 1970s and 80s, when the whiff of revolution was still in the air and nothing was sacred.

As such the nature of the beast was not to go courting friends, and Charlie Hebdo would lash out at anything its collective writers and cartoonists got het up about, mining France’s anti-clerical and secular heritage for all its worth in scathing attacks against what it condemned as religious frauds of any faith.

Inevitably this brought Charlie Hebdo into conflict with Islam, although when this writer arrived in France its fiercest critics were found on the Catholic fundamentalist, royalist and Front National-leaning right. In its prime Charlie Hebdo is capable of puncturing pomposity and skewering hypocrites like few other publications. It can also be very rude and vulgar.

Charlie Hebdo is indiscriminate in its satire, no-one is safe and no-one is spared, so much like Britain’s “Private Eye” or America’s “Onion” Charlie Hebdo is unafraid to offend and cares not one hoot about ruffling sensibilities. This has on occasion led the paper into misogynist or homophobic ranting

Like France’s great satirical journal of record, Le Canard Enchainée, Charlie Hebdo does also on occasion carry serious political articles and reports from trouble spots, but it is much more interested in getting a laugh than truly investigative reporting.

Speculation about who might be behind the attack might take as a starting point who would not want to attack the paper, as its list of figures who have felt slighted or insulted is long and legion. Victims of Charlie Hebdo’s humour range from politicians of every stripe to film and pop stars to other celebrities and figures from popular culture.

As Islamic extremists have been Charlie Hebdo’s most recent and vociferous enemies the Islamic militant lead is the one most commonly being mentioned as a possibility, but the attack bears some hallmarks of paper’s traditional enemies on the far-right, as the attackers had military-grade weapons, hid their identities, and used cars to make an escape.

Some have argued had this been an Islamic-style operation the attackers may not have bothered to hide themselves, and may have sought martyrdom in a final shoot-out with police.

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