Charlie Hebdo and the “enemy within”

Monday, July 13, 2015

By Sabrina Kennelly

On January 7th, 2015, two brothers, Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, forced their way into the Paris offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo killing twelve people. Two days later, Amedy Coulibal fired shots in the kosher grocery store, Hyper Cacher.
The deadliest terror attack since the 1961 Algerian war, French President Francois Hollande called the attacks an act of “extreme barbarity” (CNN, 2015).
Around the world, the phrase “Je suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie” was shown on social media and at public demonstrations in solidarity with the victims.
The media showed illustrations of two pencils being hit by an airplane comparing the attacks in Paris to those of 9/11 in the United States. For Jim Hoagland, contributing editor for The Washington Post, there is a difference between the attacks in Paris to those in New York. “Americans immediately understood 9/11 as a foreign attack against the homeland. We did not have to and still do not worry about an enemy within. It will require great care, and great skill, to prevent the Charlie Hebdo attack from becoming a point of division” he stated in his opinion piece after the attacks (Hoagland, 2015).
Almost a month after the attacks, on February 9th, four specialists Antoine Mégie, Sophie Fesdijan, David Vaulcair, and Dr. Jane Weston discussed the controversial magazine at a roundtable conference in Paris (Charlie Hebdo and Paris Today, Paris, 2015).
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Figure 2"Liberty I cry for your name" sign is placed on the Place de la Republique (center).  On the left in purple the phrase “I am free” is marked. Photo taken by Sabrina Kennelly (2015).
A cultural clash
Dr. Weston, who studied the magazine and its controversies for her doctorate, began the Charlie Hebdo and Paris Today roundtable by explaining the history of the satirical paper.  “I would encourage everyone to read it,” said Weston, calling the paper “friendly” for readers (Charlie Hebdo and Paris Today, Paris, 2015).
The weekly magazine has always been known for its controversial humor. Previously known as Hara-Kiri in the 70s, the publication was banned for mocking the death of former French President Charles de Gaulle. By 1996, the publication was re-named as “Charlie Hebdo” and has been publishing weekly issues ever since. Many of the publications issues contain cartoons mocking religious leaders (Gibson, 2015).
In 2011, Charlie caused controversy when it listed the prophet Muhammed as editor-in-chief. The next day, on November 2nd 2011, Hebdo’s offices were firebombed and damaged. Editor Stéphane Charbonnier told BBC the following day that “if we can poke fun at everything in France, if we can talk about anything in France apart from Islam or the consequences of Islamism that is annoying,” said Charbonnier (Gibson, 2015).
For Dr. Jane Weston religion should be seen as fair game for satire. “When you understand a language and get the jokes, you become part of a group,” said Weston at the roundtable. “Humor is an explosive picture. You have to be in that spirit without bearing in mind of it’s consequences” (Charlie Hebdo and Paris Today, Paris, 2015).
Though Charlie Hebdo may seem easy to read with its use of common language, the question still remains if readers are able to fully comprehend its humor. This is especially true for immigrants in France. According to Pew Research Center, France was noted in 2010 to have the second largest Muslim population in the European Union with 4.7 Million Muslims living in France. Roughly 3 million of these immigrants are from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia (Pew Research Center, 2015).  C:\Users\Jim Kennelly\Pictures\France 2015\DSC05426.JPG
Figure 3 The phrase "I am Charlie" is paved on a Parisian sidewalk. Photo taken by Sabrina Kennelly (2015).
Product of the French School System
According to CNN, all three men involved in the attacks in January were first generation immigrants in France; Coulibaly was of Malian descent and The Kouachi brothers were of Algerian descent (CNN, 2015).
“The terrorists didn’t come from outside. The terrorists were produced by the French school system,” remarked Sophie Fesdijan, professor of immigration housing, and panelist for the Charlie Hebdo roundtable (Charlie Hebdo and Paris Today, Paris, 2015).
“For immigrant children school is the opportunity to learn about France,” Fesdijan proclaimed.  She went on to add that school is also an opportunity for immigrants to become liberated from religion. (Charlie Hebdo and Paris Today, Paris, 2015).
“The (French) national education system has made it necessary to give children, at the same time, help to assimilate while helping them, at the same time, to find their place within society to do well,” explained David Vauclair, author of Les religions abrahamiques: judaïsme, christianisme, et Islam and professor at Université Paris Sud at the Charlie Hebdo roundtable (Charlie Hebdo and Paris Today, Paris, 2015).
For Vauclair, secularism, or “Laïcité”, within French public schools is one of the ways French society relays the concept of living together. “Each time that religion has entered into France, it has been a catastrophe,” he said (Vauclair, personal communication, April 2015).
On January 7th, Paris became a catastrophic scene when the Kouachi brothers attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo in the name of Prophet Mohammed. In a video, Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi, a member of Al Qaeda in Yemen, claimed responsibility for the horrific events saying,“As for the blessed battle of Paris, we in the organization of Qa’idatul Jihad in the Arabian Peninsula, claim responsibility for this operation as vengeance for the Messenger Allah,” (CNN, 2015).
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Figure 4 Drawings on the Place de la Republique serve as a memorial for the attacks with the phrases "freedom of expression" and copies of the covers of the satirical magazine. Photo by Sabrina Kennelly (2015).
Who’s to blame?
Since the attacks in January, fingers have been pointing at who is to blame for the attacks. “Terrorism didn’t just start in January,” said Antoine Mégie, director of the journal Politique européenne and member of the editorial board of the journal Cultures et Conflits, at the panel. Terrorism, he explained, has been going on since the creation of dynamite. We have to realize that we constantly use the word ‘terrorism’ and that the term terrorists can cause problems,” said Mégie. One of the problems, Mégie added, is profiling certain people as “terrorists” (Charlie Hebdo and Paris Today, Paris, 2015).
For many Muslims, being profiled as a “terrorist” was a reality even before the attacks in New York.  According to the French Council for the Muslim Religion, anti-Muslim acts have risen since the attacks in January. In France, 128 anti-Muslim actions and/or threats were reported from January 7th-20th alone. In addition the National Consultative Commission of Human Rights found that from 2013 to 2014 the number of anti-Semitic acts had risen to 851 from 423 (Rubin, 2015).
“Islam is in no way conductive of terrorism,” said David Vaucalir.  Very often the link of terrorism and the Islamic faith is made, he said. But this isn’t the case. “There are 5 million citizens in France that are Muslim. Only 1% is considered ‘radical’. This gives an idea of what is considered a threat,” said David Vauclair (personal communication, April 2015).
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Victims of globalization
Though terrorism has been blamed for the attacks in January, it could also be blamed on effects due to globalization. According to Jim Hoagland, the cartoonists who died were “indirect victims of globalization and the communication revolution, of the electronic rubbing up against each other of societies at different levels of development and of the backlash,” (Hoagland, 2015).  
According to Yahya R. Kamalipour, author of Global Communication, globalization is “the process of different cultural groups strengthening and sharing values, ideas, opinions, and technologies together”.  This has created a global community with an increasingly homogenous culture in the political, economic, educational, and scientific activities. Kamalipour notes that religion, unlike other aspects, has difficulty integrating into different cultures and communities (Kamalipour, 2007, p. 165).
    In order to understand how Charlie Hebdo and globalization play a role in the attacks in January I decided to sit down with David Vauclair, one of the panelists from February’s Charlie Hebdo and Paris Today roundtable.  “Each culture has its own rules,” explained Vauclair. “These rules are vague but relay to the concept of ‘living together’, which corresponds to the way one eats, dresses, and interacts into society,” he explained.  “The central question is this: what will it take for immigrants to adapt and feel welcomed into the local community and culture?” asked Vauclair (personal communication, April 2015).
This question of French citizens and immigrants “living together” in a hospitable manner has been put into question since the 1940’s. From 1945-1980s immigrants were housed by the French government in shanty huts known as “Bidonvilles”, which were in poor condition, overcrowded, and located on the periphery of large cities such as Lyon, Marseille, and Paris.
“Bidonvilles tend to have states of problems ranging from access to water, sicknesses, to disputes over territory,” stated Vauclair. In order to respond to the poverty of Bidonvilles, the French government constructed apartments known as “HLM’s” in the 1980s, which had low rent and access to more resources, said Vauclair (personal communication, 2015).
In addition, the Bidonvilles, which were supposedly destroyed by the French government in the 80’s, are still intact for immigrants to live in. “The government does not wish to have these and considers those who live within Bidonvilles not real ‘immigrants’ and rather people who are passing through,” emphasized Vauclair (personal communication, 2015).
According to Vauclair many of the immigrants that reside in the periphery come from former French colonies such as Algeria or Mali. “The Front National sees immigration as a problem and talks about Arabs,” stated Vauclair.  For Vauclair, he hopes to break this stereotype, and show that the tendency to imagine immigrants as colored, Muslim, and from the Middle East is false.  “Immigration doesn’t come uniquely from ancient colonies—it is universal,” he claims (personal communication, 2015).
Instead Vauclair hopes that people will focus on the facts, rather than stereotypes on immigrants within France. “Sixty percent of immigrants aren’t colored,” he states. “The media is only focalizing on what is the problem at the moment. We are more interested in what doesn’t work than what does work,” admits Vauclair.
Because of the focalization and negative sentiments towards Muslim immigrants in France, Prime Minister Manuel Valls has announced a plan to combat this problem. In April, Valls announced the creation of a new three year plan dedicating $108 million to combat racism and anti-Semitism nationwide through education programs and police forces (Rubin, 2015).
The question remains if programs such as these will diminish negative sentiments towards immigrants within France. “Immigration has been a problem since the beginning of antiquity,” acknowledges Vauclair. “We are still in a state of shock (from the Charlie Hebdo attacks)…it is way too early to understand what the impact of this reaction will be,” he concludes (personal communication, April,2015).

CNN News. (2015). Complete coverage: terror in Paris. Retrieved from
Gibson, M. (2015). The provocative history of French weekly newspaper Charlie. Retrieved from
Hackett, C. (2015). 5 Facts about the Muslim population in Europe. Retrieved from
Hoagland, J. (2015). France’s tough task in reacting to the horrific attack on Charlie Hebdo. Retrieved from
Kamalipour, R. J. (2007). Global  Communication (Vol. 2). Belmont, CA : Thomson Higher Education.
Madi, M., Ryder, S., Macfarlane, J., Beach, A., & Park, V. (January, 2015). As it happened:
Charlie Hebdo attack.  Retrieved from
Rubin, A., & Breeden, A. (2015, April). France announces stronger fight against racism and anti-

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