Irreverent? Admittedly. Tasteless? Often. The French newspaper Charlie Hebdo regularly exercised a right to freedom of speech through satire.
Everyone was a target–not just Islam and its radicals: In a December issue, Charlie published a cover cartoon depicting a garish Virgin Mary giving birth to the infant Jesus.
Today, the publication became a target itself. Masked gunmen with automatic weapons burst into its newsrooms and began firing. Twelve are dead, including the cartoonist known as “Cabu,” along with his editor and fellow cartoonist, Stephane Charbonnier, who used the pseudonym “Charb.”
Just minutes before the attack, Charlie had tweeted a satirical cartoon of Islamic State’s self-styled caliph offering wishes for a Happy New Year.
Charlie was firebombed in 2011 one day after it published a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad and has continued to receive threats.
“No barbaric act will never extinguish the freedom of the press,” French President François Hollande tweeted Wednesday. “We are a united country that will react and unite.”
“France is America’s oldest ally, and has stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States in the fight against terrorists who threaten our shared security and the world,” President Barack Obama said in a written statement, offering the French government any assistance it would need to bring the shooters to justice.
In a joint briefing with Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. stands with France in “solidarity and commitment” in “confronting extremism.”
He noted that France gave birth to democracy, which is exactly what extremists fear the most.
The U.S. Embassy in Paris changed the picture of its Twitter account to read, “Je Suis Charlie,” after the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie–“I am Charlie”–which thousands of tweeps have been using to express their shock and outrage over the incident.
European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans called Wednesday’s incident “an attack on all of us, on our fundamental values, on the freedoms our #EU societies are built upon.”
Christophe DeLoire of Reporters Without Borders called it “the darkest day of the history of the French Press.”