Understanding cartoons

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has received a lot of attention after the recent attacks at their office. Some of the criticism directed at Charlie Hebdo is uncalled for and inaccurate. This website tries to explain the cartoons within the context they were published so that they may be better understood.

About (and what this site is not)

Charlie Hebdo's satire

The brand of humor in Charlie Hebdo is very particular, and somewhat unique to France. It is absurdist (in the tradition of Rubrique-à-Brac), a type of humor comparable to MAD magazine and Viz in terms of anglo-saxon publications. It is also extremely satirical, comparable to The Onion and The Colbert Report, e.g. saying Charlie Hebdo is homophobic is as absurd as saying Stephen Colbert is right-wing, or that Ali-G is racist. Charlie Hebdo humour is often crass and shows a complete lack of respect for many institutions, à la South Park. More explanations of this are offered in this article from The New Yorker and this article in Mediapart.

Charlie Hebdo employs their rather brutal satire against dogma, hypocrisy and hysteria, regardless of its source. Satire works by toying with different levels of interpretation (irony) – a fundamentally subjective endeavour which in the hands of Charlie Hebdo is sure to leave bitter aftertastes. Humor is not a requirement.

The cartoons shown below are a small selection of the broad range of topics that Charlie Hebdo covers. There are plenty of cartoons that are simply making fun of Francois Hollande or Nicolas Sarkozy. It's important to keep this in mind, as otherwise it is very easy to conclude, when only presented with a handful of cartoons, that Charlie Hebdo covers only the topics below. In reality the cartoons touch upon a wide variety of topics, but always play stupid and mean with them (« bête et méchant »). Here are some statistics regarding the subjects matters of most front-page cartoons on Charlie Hebdo compiled by Le Monde:

statistics of charlie cartoons
Translation:
What's being mocked?
Themes of front-page Charlie Hebdo cartoons from 2005 to 2015

[clockwise]
Politics, social and economic current events, sports & entertainment, religion, 4 other subjects.
[top to bottom]
Of those... Islam, Several religions at once, Christianity.

They note in the accompanying article that these proportions haven't varied much during the period analysed (2005 - 2015), except for politics taking a lead during French elections.

The cartoons

non aux manifs de vieilles gouines Rassemblement de bleu racist Diedonne et sa quenelle Esclaves sexuelles de Boko Haram: touchez pas a nos allocs Les francais: aussi con que les negres Charlie Hebdo: Journal irresponsable c'est dur d'etre aime par des cons c'est dur d'etre finance par des cons Castorama est ferme! Aux chiottes toutes les religions! Aux chiottes toutes les religions!
(more to be added)

Non aux manifs de gouines [ link ]

Themes: Same-sex marriage

Publication date: 22/05/2013

Author: Cabu (1938 - 2015)

A pro-gay cartoon

Translation

“Let's protect our children!
NO TO DEMONSTRATIONS BY OLD DYKES”

Symbols

  • First the cartoon starts with “let's protect our children!”; the age old rallying cry of the conservatives when removing liberties. The same explanation was used recently in the UK to introduce internet censorship.
  • Between the two main caricatures is the caricature of an angry nun, a traditionally anti-gay figure.
  • The cartoon is published right after the « La Manif pour tous » demonstrations that took place throughout France, and in particular Paris, which was a movement that was directly opposed to « mariage pour tous » (“Marriage for all”) demonstrations, advocating same-sex marriage. The cartoon is making fun of the demonstrations against same-sex marriage.
  • The person on the left depicts Christine Boutin, a center-right politician in France. She was opposed to (pro-gay) reformations to the PACS (French civil partnership) and strongly opposed same-sex marriage. She self-describes her values as being catholic.
  • The person on the right depicts Frigide Barjot (a pun on Brigitte Bardot), born Virginie Merle, a French humorist and political activist. She campaigned against same-sex marriage in France and against LGBT adoption.

Satire

The cartoon is making fun of the two activists who are against same-sex marriage. It does this by first repeating the slogan they use “let's protect our children!”, and then referring to them as lesbians (gouines). The word “gouines” is pejorative (at least when not used self-referentially by a lesbian). The implication is that only two old repressed lesbians would annoy us so much with their anti-gay propaganda. This is itself a reference to the numerous anti-gay advocates who turn out to be homosexuals (see for example here for an extensive list). The word “gouines” here is used ironically and in the form of absurdist humour, insulting the activists as people of their own ideology would.

The same joke was used in a cartoon by Coco, published on her personal blog:

2 mamans 1 sextoy, par Coco

The two women depicted in this cartoon are again Frigide Barjot and Christine Boutin. The title reads “2 mums, 1 sextoy?”. This is a parody of their slogan “1 papa, 1 maman”. In this cartoon the activists are portayed as sex-crazed lesbians. They are redirecting their repressed sexuality into traditionalist religious zeal (they are salivating at the sight of a cross, perhaps an improvised dildo). This is a satire of the use of religion and traditional values as a form of “moral masturbation” (their sex-toy), and the feelings of moral superiority which may follow.

These two women were the butt of many other cartoons that featured in Charlie Hebdo, including this one:

which features a homosexual (sporting a rainbow flag t-shirt) that has been beaten up by the “ideas of Boutin, Copé and Barjot”.

Rassemblement Bleu Raciste [ link ]

Themes: Racism, Front National

Publication date: 12/11/2013

Author: Charb (1967 - 2015)

A pro-gay cartoon

Translation

“RACIST BLUE UNION”

Symbols

  • The font chosen (serif) is reminiscent of traditional right-wing political posters. Left-wing and communist posters in France usually use a sans-serif font. This is the first hint that the cartoon is mocking a right-wing element.
  • The blue and red flame logo on the bottom-left is the logo of the Front National, a far-right political party in France.
  • The person depicted is Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, drawn as a monkey. This is referencing various occasions of far-right activists depicting Taubira as a monkey (online sharing of photoshops, sound imitations, calling out, etc.).
  • The title is a play on words of Marine Le Pen's slogan “Rassemblement Bleu Marine” (Navy blue Union).

Satire

The cartoon was published after a National Front politician Facebook-shared a photoshop of Justice Taubira, drawn as a monkey, and then said on French television the she should be “in a tree swinging from the branches rather than in government” [Le Monde] (she was later sentenced to 9 months of prison). The cartoon is styled as a political poster, calling on all far-right “Marine” racists to unify, under this racist imagery they have chosen. Ultimately, the cartoon is criticising the far-right's appeal to racism to gain supporters.

The cartoon was drawn by Charb. He participated in anti-racism activities, and notably illustrated the poster (below) for MRAP (Movement Against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples), an anti-racist NGO.

Translation:
Let's break the silence!
[speech-bubble] I would hire you, but I don't like the colour of ... euh ... your tie!

Bonne année, bonne quenelle! [ link ]

Themes: Antisemitism, Quenelle, Dieudonné

Publication date: 25/12/2013

Author: Charb (1967 - 2015)

A pro-gay cartoon

Translation

“HAPPY NEW YEAR,
ENJOY YOUR QUENELLE!”

Symbols

  • The quenelle is a gesture created and popularised by the notoriously antisemitic French political activist and comedian Dieudonné. The name quenelle comes from a dish of elongated fish balls, said to resemble a suppository. Hence, the phrase “glisser une quenelle” (“to slide the quenelle”), with a gesture evoking fisting practice, is similar to the English insults “up yours” or “up your ass”. Jewish leaders, anti-racism groups and public officials—especially in France—have interpreted it as an inverted Nazi salute (illegal to perform in France) and as an expression of antisemitism. French officials have sought to ban the gesture.
  • The person depicted is French political activist and comedian Dieudonné. He has been convicted for antisemitism in France.

Satire

The cartoon depicts Dieudonné getting a quenelle (a racist antisemite symbol of his own creation) stuffed up his ass. The cartoon is figuratively telling Dieudonné to fuck off, and to take his hate-talk and hate-symbols with him.

Touchez pas à nos allocs [ link ]

Themes: Benefits fraud, Islamophobia

Publication date: 25/12/2013

Author: Riss (1966 - )

Boko Haram

Translation

“BOKO HARAM'S SEX SLAVES ARE ANGRY
DON'T TOUCH OUR BENEFITS!”

Symbols

  • The Boko Haram is a militant and self-professed Islamist movement based in northeast Nigeria with additional activities in Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
  • Pregnant and veiled women, sex slaves of Boko Haram, complaining that their benefits are being removed.

Context

The cover of this issue of Charlie Hebdo features “news mixing” of two events:

  • Following the kidnapping of school-girls by Boko Haram, it was reported that many of the victims were likely to end up as sex slaves in Nigeria.
  • The French government proposed a change in the way “allocations familiales” [child benefits] were distributed in France. Up to that point, child benefits were distributed equally regardless of income, as part of a long-standing pronatalist policy. The proposed change (hotly debated at the time) would substantially decrease the child benefits allocated to high-income families (top 12%). Traditionalist families often have a greater number of children than non-traditionalist families, usually for religious reasons (no use of contraception, women's role as mothers and homemakers, etc.). While it is true that this describes some immigrant families, it is also typical of French-born conservative Catholics, i.e., the historical ruling class in France.

Satire

In France, as in many other countries, some political activists complain that some citizens abuse their state benefits. For example citizens might do this by (fraudulently) claiming to be disabled (a common theme in the UK media). In France, each new child born increases the child-support allocated to their mother/family. Because of this, a common theme in right-wing rhetoric in France is the concept of “welfare queens” (mothers having many children for the sole purpose of claiming more benefits).

The cartoon combines the two news stories and shows the pregnant kidnapped girls voicing their support for child benefits. One of the ways the cartoon can be understood is as a satirical window into the psyche of an Front National (French far-right nationalistic partyront National) voter, who conflates many issues (Islamist activities abroad, and benefits policies at home). One can picture a Front National voter watching a television broadcast about the Boko Haram kidnapping: he is already worrying about the benefits fraud these young women might commit when they are accepted as refugees in France!

It's important to note that the proposed change in distribution of child benefits (which were approved by the Assemblée Nationale two days after this issue was published) would in any case not affect low-income immigrant families. Indeed the demographic most affected would be high-income families with many children: a common situation of many conservative Catholic familes. The proposed change was met with opposition from both ends of the political spectrum, mostly based on the idea that child benefits shouldn't become yet another wealth redistribution mechanism. The most vocal opponents, however, were right-wing conservatives. This is what makes the cartoon all the more absurd: the Boko Haram sex-slaves are protesting to cuts that would not even affect them. Depicting the Boko Haram sex-slaves complaining about the problems of the well-off makes the cartoon an incarnation of the first world problems meme: while rich French families are complaining about losing money, young girls are being raped and enslaved in Nigeria.

Les Francais aussi cons que les negres [ link ]

Themes: Racism, Catholics, Pope

Author: Reiser (1941 – 1983)

A pro-gay cartoon

Translation

“THE POPE IN PARIS:
THE FRENCH
AS STUPIS AS THE NEGROS”

Symbols

  • The Pope John Paul II is depicted, his right hand is making a benediction hand gesture.
  • A number of catholics are depicted in frenetic devotion of the pope. They have crazed yellow eyes. One is kissing the Pope's hand, and another is offering up a (confused) baby.

Satire

At the time of publication, the Pope had recently visited a number of African countries, namely Zaire, Congo, Kenya, Ghana, Upper Volta and Côte d'Ivoire. This visit finished on the 12th of May 1980, and the press coverage of this visit was still fresh in the minds of the French, including the controversy surrounding the Pope's condemnation of the use of condoms. Shortly after this, the Pope visited France (pilgrimage to Lisieux, 30 May 1980). The cartoon depicts the crowds that gathered during this visit.

The caption in the cartoon can be read as the thoughts of the Pope. Charlie Hebdo are mocking the French reaction to the Pope's visit (frenetic adoration), by showing that the Pope thinks of them, and Africans, with tremendous contempt (note that the Pope's eyes are not yellow, possibly indicating he is not under the same feverish delusions as his admirers). This comparison with Africans further adds to the irony of the situation: the admirers are idolising a racist.

Charlie Hebdo, journal irresponsable [ link ]

Themes: Freedom of speech, Meta

Publication date: #1058 - 26/09/2012

Author: Charb (1967 - 2015)

Charlie Hebdo, journal irresponsable

Translation

Left cover:
“Charlie Hebdo
Irresponsible paper
The invention of humor
Oil [arrow] Fire [arrow]”

Right cover:
“[in red above Charlie Hebdo] No more laughing!
[big red banner] Responsible paper”

Symbols

  • A caveman is holding oil in one hand and fire in the other. What will happen next is obvious. In French, « jeter de l'huile sur le feu » [add fuel to the fire] is a saying that means “to worsen a conflict between people; to inflame an already tense situation”.
  • The white blank page on the right-hand-side cover, with the words “responsible paper” styled as a sort of warning sign, represents censorship.

Satire

The double cover presents us with two alternatives:

  • a “responsible” magazine that is devoid of all content, thus totally uninteresting, undoing all of the progress made since the invention of humor; or,
  • an “irresponsible” magazine that functions in a realistic society, accepting basic human nature (represented by the caveman).

France has a long-standing tradition of political humor, going back to even before the French revolution. The cover implies that not offending anyone would imply throwing away this long-standing tradition and undoing all the progress made with regards to freedom of expression that was fought for over the centuries.

In this cartoon, Charlie Hebdo is offering a satirical representation of themselves, owning up to their reputation of being both provocative (fire) and crass (caveman). The banner “Irresponsible Paper” from the left cover is reproduced in all future editions of the magazine, in a smaller size.

C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons [ link ]

Themes: Muslim fundamentalism

Publication date: #712 - 05/02/2006

Author: Cabu (1938 - 2015)

C'est dur d'etre aime par des cons

Translation

“Muhammad overwhelmed by the fundamentalists
[in speech bubble] It's tough being loved by idots”

Symbols/Context

  • The man in the picture is the prophet Muhammad. Wether or not representations of the prophet are forbidden by Islam is debated.
  • The cartoon was published in February 2006, about 5 months after the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy and Charlie Hebdo's cartoon is a reaction to these cartoons. Wolinski even states during the meeting where this cartoon was drawn: “it's the first time the Danish make me laugh!”

Satire

The cartoon is published as a nod to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons, which are republished within this issue. What is being addressed is precisely the idea of whether the prophet can be depicted. Charlie Hebdo are toying with the philosophical idea of what a representation of the prophet is. This is clearly seen in other candidates for the front-page cartoon, pinned on thier office wall:

  • If the prophet's eyes are hidden, is it still a representation of him?
  • What if the whole head is hidden?
  • On the far right, the cartoon is a reference to La trahison des images [The Treachery of Images], 1928–29, by surrealist painter René Magritte. The wall plate reads “this is not a caricature of the prophet”.

Charb is heard stating (video), during the making of the cartoon, that the prophet's eyes are hidden, so that technically this isn't a representation of the prophet. Cabu, in another interview states that he purposefully overflowed the word “intégristes” onto the turban, so as to avoid manipulation or misuse of his cartoon: indeed it is then more difficult to separate the drawing of the prophet with his speech bubble from the headline. Thus the intended meaning will remain intact: it is the fundamentalists who are the “cons” [idiots], not all muslims. He was saddened to report that despite this effort, he had seen the cartoon shared online without the headline, along with distorted interpretations of his drawing.

Finally, the point made in the cartoon is one that is always widely made by muslims after terrorist attacks: the Prophet Muhammad is ashamed of the love proferred to him by fundamentalists (and the acts they commit in his name).

dur d'être financé par des cons [ link ]

Themes: Catholic church, Meta

Publication date: #905 - 21/10/2009

Author: Charb (1967 - 2015)

C'est dur d'etre finance par des cons

Translation

“Revelations
on Opus Dei's money
[in speech bubble] It's hard to be financed by idiots ...”

Symbols/Context

  • The man being crucified is Jesus.
  • The two briefcases are full of money, so full that some is escaping. These briefcases symbolise corruption.
  • A headline, styled in the manner of French tabloids (shouting scandal) announces that someone is being bought by the Opus Dei, an institution of the Roman Catholic Church, described by many journalists as the most controversial because of its secretiveness, controversial recruiting methoods, misogyny and support for authoritarian right-wing governments.
  • The positions of the headline and speech-bubble, along with the text of the speech-bubble, recall the famous cover of issue #712, featuring the prophet Muhammad.

Satire

By recalling the previous cover of issue #712 (featuring the prophet) Charlie Hebdo is poking fun at its critics which say they only feature cartoons of the prophet. Furthermore the portrayal of Jesus here is on the whole more offensive (and the shade of pink is darker and more saturated). He is not only displayed on the cross, but with bags of dirty money. Charlie Hebdo is shouting out provocatively: “see! we did Jesus too, on the cross, covered in scandal and controversy!”.

Castorama est FERMÉ! [ link ]

Themes: French politics/society, Christian values

Publication date: #1111 - 02/10/2013

Author: Luz (1972 - )

C'est dur d'etre finance par des cons

Translation

“[top left] WORKING ON SUNDAYS
[speech bubble] Castorama is closed!
we're going to have to fuck you”

Symbols/Context

  • The header on the top-right signifies that this cartoon relates to the debate in France regarding whether stores should be allowed to open on Sundays.
  • The worried-looking man on the right is Jesus.
  • The man on the left is a Roman soldier. The Romans crucified historical Jesus. The Roman soldier's facial expression suggests he feels sorry about the situation.
  • Castorama is one of the biggest chains of DIY stores in France. Castorama decided to open on Sundays despite political pressure and having to pay large fines to do so, thereby embodying the whole debate.

Satire

The “open on Sundays” debate (still raging) has polarized France. The proponents of keeping stores closed on Sundays uphold a more traditional understanding of French societal and cultural values. They can be found anywhere on the political spectrum and generally refer to the liberal (in the economic sense) attack on French social values, and that opening stores on Sundays would threaten small businesses. The proponents of opening stores on Sundays argue that this would bring a much-needed boost to the economy, and that some employees would be happy to work on Sundays.

Jesus is represented here, because underlying the whole discussion is that Sunday is traditionally a day of communal worship and rest for Christians. The irony here is that Jesus has created this unfortunate situation he finds himself in.

The Roman soldier has a hammer, but is presumably missing other elements necessary to build the cross Jesus is to be crucified on. The Roman soldier seems to understand Jesus' consternation, and is somewhat apologetic for this impractical situation, explaining that he has to replace the punishment with sodomy.

One of the possible interpretations of the cartoon is that economic liberalism (represented by the pragmatic Roman soldier) will eventually end up “fucking-up” traditional values.

Aux chiottes toutes les religions [ link ]

Themes: Religion, Blasphemy

Publication date: #983 - 20/04/2011

Author: Cabu (1938 - 2015)

C'est dur d'etre finance par des cons

Translation

“After the scandal of Christ in the avignon piss...
ALL RELIGIONS DOWN THE SHITTER”

Symbols/Context

  • The Piss Christ is a 1987 photograph by the American artist and photographer Andres Serrano. It depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's urine. On April 17, 2011, a print of Piss Christ was vandalized “beyond repair” by Christian protesters (often referred to by commentators as “Christian fundamentalists”) while on display at a contemporary art museum in Avignon, France. The scandal that ensued is what is referenced in the yellow text.
  • Three heads apprear in succession, each replacing a letter O. The first is a caricature of the Catholic Pope Benedict XVI. The second is presumably a Muslim religious leader. The third is a caricature of a Hasidic Jew, with Payot.
  • Three rolls of toilet paper are drawn, each one being labeled with the name of a sacred text: the Bible, the Coran and the Torah. The order is consistent with the membership statistics for each faith in France: Christianity (58%), Islam (6%), Judaism (1%). By labelling the toilet-paper as sacred religion texts, Charlie Hebdo is implying the content of these texts is garbage, and deserves to be flushed down the toilet.

Humour

This cartoon was published immediately after the Avignon “Piss Christ” scandal. The cartoon is upholding the right to blasphemy, and denouncing the actions of the Christian fundamentalists. The large lettering (and language) suggests an outcry: “we've had enough with all these religions and all the troubles they cause; flush them all down the toilet!”. Charlie Hebdo strong anti-clericalism and equal judgement of all religions is apparent in this cartoon.

By mixing toilet humour and religion, the cartoon is also a homage to Andres Serrano's artwork that was vandalised.

Méthode Globanale ou Syllabite? [ link ]

Themes: Education, Gender theory, Sexism

Publication date: #1130 - 12/02/2014

Author: Catherine (1980 - )

C'est dur d'etre finance par des cons

Translation

“DANGER
[on the blackboard] Gender Theory
[speech bubble] Globanal method or sylladick method?”

Symbols/Context

  • The scene depicted takes place in a primary school. The teacher is dressed in a sexually suggestive rabbit costume. The beard suggests she/he is a transexual.
  • Gender theory refers to the study of gender identity and representation. This is an interdisciplinary academic field with many different—sometimes opposing—currents within it. However its detractors, as part of the debate that raged in France in 2013-2014, have made it out to be a unified, staunchly Feminist ideology.
  • The “Danger” warning label on the top left corner of the cartoon refers to the opinion and the reaction of some elements of the French conservative political elite and community, as well as a portion of the French muslim community. A rumour was initiated (by individuals from the far-right) that Gender Theory was going to be taught in French schools.
  • Following the rolling out in 2014 of a government initiative, ‘ABCD de l'égalité’ [‘ABCD of equality’], to primary schools, aiming at preventing sexist behaviours (from teachers, between pupils and by pupils on themselves) at school, a campaign launched by far-right activists called for a school boycott. Up to 50% of students in some areas did not come to school on the designated protest day.
  • “Glob-anal” and “sylla-dick” are sexual puns on two different methods for teaching reading (which also once sparked a debate in France): the “global” method (in English the ‘whole language’ method), and the “syllabique” method (in English the ‘phonics’ method).

Satire

The cartoon embodies and exaggerates the nightmarish vision that some parents and politicians of conservative persuasion have of what goes on in schools following the government’s initiative. Indeed, they have expressed their worry that it will lead to children being exposed to sexuality too early and to leftist notions of gender and sex. The far-right group that initiated the school boycott claimed that the government wanted to teach 4-year olds to masturbate and will encourage them to play with penis and vagina-shaped stuffed toys. They also feared that homosexual speakers will give talks in schools and brainwash their children.

Charlie Hebdo ridicules this over-reaction: no, primary school children will not be lectured to and sexualised by transvestites in sexy bunny-suits. In this cartoon, the debate about the supposed teaching of gender theory is as unimportant as the debate that once raged about which method of teaching reading should be used.

SPECIAL FEATURE: LISTEN MATE! [ link ]

Themes: Not killing people

Publication date: 14/01/2015

Author: Riad Satouf

A translation of a strip by Riad Sattouf who has a regular feature “The secret life of the youth”, from the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo, which summarises how we all feel.

The secret life of the youth

Seen and overheard on the street in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, the 8th Jan 2015

LISSEN T'WHAT I'M SAYIN'

Lissen.
Don't speak.

YOU. DON'T.
KILL.
PEOPLE.

Hear me. Hear me, mate.

'ear me.

'ear me mate, 'ear me.

'ear me.

Hang on.

Hear me.

Whatever the reason, bruv.

WHA. EVA.
DA. REA. SON.

Y'Don kill
people.

Can't do dat.

For wha-evar
reazon bruv.

BUT 'COURSE I DON'T GIVE
A FUCK ABOUT “CHARLIE HABDO”

IZ SHIT
Don't give a fuck.

I - DONT - GIVE
A - FUCK

But if you don't like it,
don't read it
but you don't KILL
sorry...

Well don't say “serves 'em right”

Yeah you said that mate.

an' if you say dat,
iz like...

HUH? WHAT?

A CONSPIRACY ?

YOU SERIOUS?

'OW THE FUCK IS IT A CONSPIRACY? FROM WHO?

Even you said, “serves 'em right”
so what's 'ere gotta be a
conspiracy for?

YEA, you agree,
no need for a
conspiracy


dat's how it iz...

Hear me brotha, deez geezers
dey were doin' drawins, dats all.

You don't kill for dat,
dat's all.

Yeah yeah.

Violence,
after it only duz
violence which
after dat does more
violence, which
makes more
violence
datz how it iz...

Tuerie en egypte [ link ]

Themes: Muslim Brotherhood, Religion

Publication date: #1099 - 10/07/2013

Author: Riss (1966 - )

C'est dur d'etre finance par des cons

Translation

“[pink label] Killings in Egypt
[in white] The Quran is shit
[yellow label] It doesn't stop bullets”

Symbols/Context

  • This carton refers to the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood that followed President Morsi’s removal from power in the 2013 Egyptian coup d’etat led by General el-Sisi. Following the coup, Brotherhood supporters carried out sit-ins throughout the country. The military reacted by declaring a state of Emergency and organising raids to dismount camps set up by Brotherhood supporters. Violence escalated rapidly between the two sides, resulting in hundreds of deaths, thousands injured, and the majority of Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders being in custody.
  • The man being shot is presumably a Muslim Brotherhood militant, as suggested by his clothing, his use of the Quran as a shield (see more on this below) and the political context at the times of publication.

Satire

A common accusation directed against this cartoon is that it would somehow celebrate the mass casualties among the Muslim Brotherhood. One should not deduce from the satirical depiction of a crime that Charlie hebdo warrants this crime. Indeed, Charlie Hebdo cartoons have never shied away from showing the grim realities of violence (including the depiction of victims) and using the shock-value to attract public’s attention to the issue at hand. The following cartoons are good points of reference as they refer to a much less politically charged issue but also depict victims of tragedies in a very direct manner:

Translation
“Suicides at France Télécom
The CEO takes measures
[panel held by falling man] Farewell”

Author: Charb

Translation
“[black box] step ladder at France Télécom
[speech bubble] Hurry up, I have a meeting at 3!”

Author: Luz

These cartoons refer to the string of suicides by employees that took place at France Telecom in 2008-2009: it would be difficult to argue that this drawing, given the generally ultra-left wing and pro workers’ rights stance of Charlie Hebdo, is celebrating the suicides of workers. Rather, the satirical representation of death and suicide is a way to shock the reader’s conscience by depicting an incident whose horrifying nature may not be as effectively conveyed in the written press (or on TV, where violent images are censored or inexistent). Drawing appears to be a much more efficient way to attract people’s attention on many issues.

A second element that has been contentious in this carton is the representation and the qualification of the Quran as ‘shit’. Staunchly anti-clerical and secularist, Charlie Hebdo has always deplored—in its signature bluntness—the involvement of religion in politics. This cartoon suggests that religion has failed the Muslim Brotherhood, a failure that can be interpreted in two ways. First, it has failed to protect the Muslim Brotherhood from destruction, partly by giving them a false sense of security (the militant uses the Quran as a physical shield and the caption indicating that the Quran “does not stop bullets”). For many Brotherhood militants, it was a case of “bringing a knife to a gunfight”, even though the more extremist among them were heavily armed. Second, the Quran failed to protect the M.B. in the sense that it didn't create the popular support the M.B. was counting on, despite the importance of Islam within Egyptian society (94.7% Muslim). Indeed, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians staged protests and strikes against them from November 2012 onwards, culminating in the mass protest of June 2013, where between 17 and 33 million of Egyptians requested Morsi to step down.