Charlie Hebdo: Interview of Gilbert Mercier on PRN Leid Stories


“In the world of political satire, the killing of the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo would be the equivalent, in the 18th century, of having Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, and Montesquieu killed in the same room at the same time.” – Gilbert Mercier


Twelve people, most of them journalists and cartoonists, were assassinated during an editorial meeting of the small satirical weekly newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris, France, during the morning of January 7, 2015. Gilbert Mercier was invited to an interview with Eutrice Leid, of Progressive Radio Network (PRN). The interview begins with a statement by Mercier to establish the context of the story. It continues with a riveting discussion about the meaning of freedom of expression for the press, immigrants, the French and other Europeans who must coexist in a multicultural society, and the possible political and social repercussions of these highly publicized assassinations.


Whatever the view about what it is appropriate to express or not, it is never acceptable to murder people because of their insults. There is a name for people who have done this, and it is “prisoner.” The discussion of free speech below in no way condones this behavior. A satirical barb deserves another sharper one: not a fatwa.


Eutrice Leid: What is the environment of the story…  from your point of view, as a French man, as a journalist, as a person who has been writing about these developments for so many years, both within Paris and… throughout the world?


Gilbert Mercier: Unfortunately, [the attack on Charlie Hebdo] has been depicted by many people in France as France’s 911. I certainly hope that the reaction to what happened after 911 in the US, which was the enactment of repressive legislation such as the Patriot Act, is not going to entice the current French government of Francois Holland, or the coming one, to crack down even more on protest and turn themselves even more into a police state…. It is a national day or mourning in France. There’s going to be three days. Today is the big day. It’s a day of mourning for all of us journalists, for all of us who cherish free speech.

The jihadists, according to some French government source, appear to be from Al Qaeda and are likely to be connected with Al Nusra, which is a Sunni faction fighting Bashar Al Assad in Syria that is connected to ISIS. The two main suspects are still at large, but the French police have already arrested seven people. One of the suspects was arrested in 2008 for being in a network that was recruiting foreign fighters to fight in Iraq. So this is the background.


Now, what I personally fear, more than anything else, is a confusion of the French or European public opinion. They might feel that it’s a sort of war on their culture, their society, from Islam. This notion of “clash of civilizations” really is something that fundamentalists want.

Attacking Charlie Hebdo is incredible, because Charlie Hebdo is a weekly magazine that’s been around since 1971. That’s 44 years. It’s really the magazine that carries in France the spirit of May 1968. And that’s kind of what they tried to kill in this attack. However, a lot of people are reacting worldwide in a way that is, I think, the way to react against this kind of attack on free speech. I’ll give you an example. In Quebec today, in Canada, the 12 leading newspapers republished some of the most controversial cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo in 2006. They carried a drawing, a picture of Prophet Mohammad. The caption says: “It’s hard to be loved by idiots.” It has the kind of humor Charlie Hebdo was carrying: a humor marked by a secularist irreverence. Charlie Hebdo was sort of a leftist version of The Onion, if you wish, for your American audience. It was irreverent: attacking all forms of religion, not really respecting anything, which is what cartoonists, what satirical journalists, should do.


We cannot let those people succeed. The next edition: it’s going to be next week. Charlie Hebdo will come up. They’ve decided to print one million copies next week. Just to give you an idea, the normal weekly circulation of Charlie Hebdo is 45,000. In a gesture that is really incredible, everybody is stepping in. Newspapers like Le Monde, Radio France, Liberation, they’re all stepping in, and they have donated work space and money to the people of Charlie Hebdo to continue their work. It is quite remarkable.

EL: People operate sometimes with the idea that free speech, or any so-called right is absolute. And it isn’t. With every right there is a corresponding duty to exercise that right responsibly…. Is there a line to be drawn?… In France, there is incipient and outrageous anti-Muslim sentiment, and it is evident both on the left and on the right.

For more of this discussion, listen to the podcast below.

Editor’s Notes: Photograph one by Mamasuco; two by Valentina Cala; three by Gwenael Piaser; four by Gerry Lauzon; five by Guillaume Vigier; six by Mona Eberhardt; seven by Furcifer Pardalis; and eight from Kanichat archive.




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