Charlie Hebdo: will you buy it?

Defiant pencil from the Charlie Hebdo homepage

Defiant pencil from the Charlie Hebdo homepage

Charlie Hebdo has raised its print run tomorrow to a massive 3 million copies – probably 60 times its normal run – with copies being distributed far beyond their normal scope. And it has a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed on the cover.

Will you buy a copy?

I will, because the past week has been a historic one in the history of journalism and magazines. However, without such a professional impetus, the answer is not straightforward. While I have bought copies of Charlie Hebdo in the past, it has always seemed to me that it is an extreme magazine with editorial values that I could not share. It has been censored by the likes of Apple iTunes. And last week it came up against an even more extreme entity, in the form of extremist Islamists.

Do you agree with the statement today from the cartoonist who drew tomorrow’s cover: ‘There is no “but” when it comes to freedom of speech’? Even though another staff member has pointed out that: ‘We are not obsessed by Mohammed more than the Pope or [former French president] Nicolas Sarkozy.’

Charlie Hebdo exists to bait its targets by word and image, and to push the boundaries of what is allowed in print. But most newspapers and magazines would not go there. This can become an unequal battle being waged by highly literate – and after the revenue comes in tomorrow, well-resourced – journalists. What form of response is there for many of their targets? Muslim groups have tried to stop the magazine’s attacks by using the law, but from what I have read, have failed. However, the magazine was banned when it attacked Charles de Gaulle after his death. This does raise the issue of whether all people are equal before the law.

If you hold up a sign saying ‘Je Suis Charlie’, what are you supporting? Free speech? The right of Charlie Hebdo to carry on baiting Muslimists and its other targets? The 17 victims of the gunmen last week? If you buy a copy tomorrow, what will you be supporting then?

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