There was a sober ceremony in Paris on Thursday morning; flowers were laid at the offices of satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo”, whose offices were attacked by Islamic extremists two years ago, beginning a terrible period of terrorist threats for France.
January 7 2015 will be engraved in contemporary history, and not just in French textbooks. The attack on the magazine’s offices by two terrorists and the massacre of many of Charlie’s key contributors was a huge shock.
Shockwaves would spread around France after the attack, and three days of a manhunt during which a police officer was killed and hostages were taken at a supermarket transfixed the public. The world watched in horror as freedom of expression itself, and the Western way of life appeared under threat. On the following weekend, the 11th, millions of French people took to the streets in a mass demonstration against terrorism. Forty-seven foreign political figures took part.
The event was so remarkable many thought it heralded a wave of jihadist attacks in Europe, but it was not the first ISIL-inspired outrage. That dubious honour belonged to the attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels in May 2014, in which four people died. It was the first attack in the West claimed by ISIL.
Ever since Europe has appeared to be running to catch up, barely capable of digesting one attack before another followed. Eleven months after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, on November 13 horror returned to the streets of Paris, when 130 people died in five separate, co-ordinated attacks.
Four months later the fight returned to Belgium with three simultaneous attacks claiming 32 lives. Come the summer it was France’s turn again, with the truck attack in NIce on the evening of July 14. Eighty-six people died and on December 19 a truck was again used against a crowd, this time in Germany, at a Berlin Christmas market.
After hundreds of deaths in only a little over 24 months it seemed as if a sort of innocence had been destroyed on the old continent.
This is without doubt ISIL’s greatest victory. And Charlie Hebdo has not emerged unscathed. It may have launched a new German edition and be financially sound thanks to donations, subscriptions and state aid, but for many contributors their hearts are no longer in it in the same way.
Charlie’s editor, Riss, has said publically that he believes people have become “less tolerant” with his publication, and two of its most famous survivors, Luz and Patrick Pelloux have quit for different reasons.
“And then I wrote underneath, ‘everything is forgiven’, which made me cry, and I realised I had the cover, we had the cover at last,” said Luz, speaking about Charlie’s moving post-attack cover drawing.
Since that memorable cover, born from the pain of the attack, until the latest one this week none of Charlie’s covers in the intervening two years have escaped violent criticism, and it was criticism that was more agressive and less tolerant than any the magazine had had to parry before.