9th Feb 2023


One year on, France still feels Charlie Hebdo shock

  • 3 million people marched to defend French values on 11 January 2015. Now France debates state of emergency. (Photo: Eric Maurice)

A year on, things seem back to normal with Charlie Hebdo. On the cover of the satirical weekly's latest issue, published Wednesday (6 January), God is running away, with blood on his beard and tunic and a Kalashnikov on his back. The headline: "One year on: the assassin is still at large."

As in the good old days, the cover has infuriated the Vatican.

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“Behind the deceptive flag of uncompromising secularism, the weekly is forgetting once more what religious leaders of every faith unceasingly repeat to reject violence in the name of religion," wrote the Osservatore Romano, the Holy See's official newspaper.

The cover, the Catholic newspaper said, is a refusal "to acknowledge or to respect believers’ faith in God, regardless of the religion".

But despite the row, the kind of which "Charlie", as it is usually called, has always relished, these are still not the good old days.

The issue, of which 1 million copies were printed, is to commemorate the killing of 11 people in the magazine's office on 7 January 2015. The victims were cartoonists and journalists as well as a visitor and a policeman.

"Something special happened on January 7, 2015, around 11:35. Something we had thought about but never really considered," Charlie Hebdo editor in chief Riss wrote in the commemorative issue.

"It was unthinkable that in the 21st century, in France, a religion might kill journalists. We saw France as a secular haven, in which it was possible to take the piss, to lampoon, to have fun without a thought for dogmas or lunatics," Riss added.

High security

Another sign that all is not back to normal is that Charlie Hebdo journalists now work in a high security building, whose address in Paris is kept secret.

A year after the loss of its director and star cartoonists, the weekly also remains torn by internal conflicts about its editorial line and money management. Several people left, including Charb, the cartoonist who took over as editor-in-chief after the killings.

From an unexpected and unlikely symbol a year ago of French values of freedom of thought and expression, Charlie Hebdo is in a way a metaphor of today's France: under siege and not knowing where it stands.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo was a game changer for France. It was also only a prologue of worse things to come.

On 13 November, 130 people were killed in Paris in coordinated attacks in bars, restaurants, a concert hall and next to a stadium.

After the attack on Charlie Hebdo, followed 2 days later by an attack on a Jewish supermarket that killed 4 people, an estimated 3 million people marched in French cities to defend the French republique's values.

A motto, "Je suis Charlie" ("I am Charlie") summarised the national consensus to uphold these values in the face of islamist radicalism but also against the far-right's attempts to conflate Islam and muslims with terrorism.

Stripping citizenship

A year later, as it commemorates the January 2015 attacks, France is under a state of emergency that is going to be constitutionalised and the hottest political debate is about stripping dual nationals convicted of terrorism of their French citizenship.

The measure on citizenship was demanded by the right and far-right and is being introduced into the constitution by the socialist government.

It has created a rift within the Socialist Party and between the party and its left-wing allies. Critics say that targeting only dual nationals is pointing the finger at French muslims and creating second-class citizens.

But according to a poll, 86 percent of French people are in favour of it, including 74 percent of socialist supporters.

On Tuesday (6 January), prime minister Manuel Valls defended the measure.

"It will be applied to people convicted of very serious crimes, who tear off the national contract," he said. But he ruled out extending it to all citizens because it would create stateless people.

Far-reaching move

More widely, the constitutional changes, which will be debated in parliament from 4 February, detail the conditions for the state of emergency.

The government says that it will be a guarantee against abuse, critics say it will make it easier to reduce freedoms.

This far-reaching move by president Francois Hollande was triggered by the large scale attack in November. But it was already in the making after the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Last spring, the parliament adopted a surveillance law that enabled security services to tap phone and electronic communications more easily and forced phone companies and internet providers to hand over data.

Since November, Hollande has repeated that France is at war with the Islamic State group. But the word was used by Valls in January already.

A year ago, France felt attacked for what it represents. In November, it felt attacked for how it lives. With the debate on the state of emergency and the stripping of citizenship, some now feel its core political values are under attack.

In one year, the French presidential election and legislative elections will be held. For the main candidates - the embattled president Hollande, the insecure opposition leader Nicolas Sarkozy and the over-confident far-right leader Marine Le Pen, these issues will be at the centre of the campaign.

How French voters will transform the "Je suis Charlie" spirit into a long-term political decision is too early to tell.

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