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A pile of pens, representing the journalism and caricaturist professions, are scattered on the ground as people gather to commemorate the victims and condemn the killings at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, on the Place de la République in Paris, France, 07 January 2015.    Source: EPA/Fredrik Von Erichsen A pile of pens, representing the journalism and caricaturist professions, are scattered on the ground as people gather to commemorate the victims and condemn the killings at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, on the Place de la République in Paris, France, 07 January 2015. Source: EPA/Fredrik Von Erichsen

#CharlieHebdo: chain reaction

Solidarity, condemnation, support and cartoons – the response of social networks, media and artists to the first terrorist attack of 2015.

On 7 December, three men armed with automatic weapons and grenade launchers entered the editorial office of the satirical weekly newspaper “Charlie Hebdo”, located in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, and opened fire. In the attack, which French President Francois Holland has called an act of terrorism, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Stephane Charbonnier (Charb) and three of his cartoonist colleagues were killed.

Six more employees of the editorial office and two police officers were also killed. Another 10 people were injured, five of whom are in critical condition.

On the morning of that day, the latest edition of “Charlie Hebdo” appeared, with a cover story about the new novel of French writer Michael Houellebecq, “Submission”, about the election of the head of the “Muslim brotherhood” Mohammed Ben Abbas as president of France in 2022, and the introduction of sharia laws to the country. An hour before the terrorist attack, the newspaper’s twitter account featured a caricature of the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

“Charlie Hebdo” is an anti-religious publication with extreme left-wing views, and which believes that no topics are off limits to joke about.

The cartoonists have always been particularly keen of poking fun at Islamists. In the spring of 2006, the newspaper even published the “Manifesto of the 12”: “…this is not about the clash of civilizations or antagonism between the West and the East, but about the global struggle in which democrats oppose theocrats.”

However, the Catholics and Jews whom the French artists also mocked never reacted to the “insulting pictures”.

As for radical Islamists, they regularly threatened the editorial office, and in 2011, when the newspaper was renamed “Charia Hebdo” for one issue, and put a pictured of the prophet Mohammed on the cover with the caption “One hundred lashes of the whip if you don’t die of laughter”, the office was set on fire, with bottles of inflammable liquid thrown at the building a day before the issue came out. That time, no one was injured…

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (C) arrives on the scene of the attack by two gunmen at the 'Charlie Hebdo' headquarters in Paris, France, 07 January 2015.   Source: EPA/IAN LANGSDON

Immediately after the terrorist attack, French President Francoise Holland arrived at the scene of the crime, along with members of the Muslim clergy of France, and the imams of the main French mosques. They unanimously condemned the attack.

All the forces of the Paris police were employed to find the killers. Three men were detained who are suspected of committing this crime, aged 34, 32 and 18. They lived in the commune of Gennevilliers in the northwestern suburbs of Paris.

Meanwhile, on Facebook a meeting was organized for people who wished to express their solidarity with the slain journalists. In the evening, people came out on to the streets of Paris and other cities in France, with the slogan “12 killed, 66 million injured”.

Sergei Kuznetsov , the editor-in-chief of the Internet publication Booknik.ru devoted to Jewish literature and culture was also present on Place de la Republique in Paris:

“Today I went to the rally in Paris. As you probably heard on the news, today terrorist attacked the editorial office of the humorous Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people.

Several hours later, a rally was organized on Place de la Republique – and soon 40,000 people had signed up. I can’t count the number of people at the rally, but I think there were well over 100,000 – the square was crowded, and so were the all the adjacent streets. Additionally, people were constantly coming and going.

People light candles as they gather to commemorate the victims and condemn the killings at the French magazin Charlie Hebdo, on the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, late 07 January 2015.   Source: EPA/Fredrik Von Erichsen

Below are several observations, inspired by a comparison with the rallies I have attended in Moscow.

1. Starting with a certain quantity of people, a rally gains a different quality. I’ve never liked going to rallies – I feel bored and lonely and I don’t get a kick out of them at all – but I spent one and a half hours here and was emotionally enrapt. Because when 100,000 people chant “We are Charlie”, this really does work, honestly. Even if I didn’t really know anything about the newspaper yesterday.

2. There were hardly any banners and flags. There were a few placards with the slogan “I am Charlie”, and the cartoons that gave rise to the tragedy, and the French flag was flown by the Republique statue – and that was it. Instead of slogans, everyone raised pencils and pens (the people killed were cartoonists). There were no speeches, but from a certain moment people started chanting all the time. So as always, simple solutions worked: understandable symbols and short slogans shared by everyone work much more powerfully that elaborate creative inventions.

3. A very limited number of phrases were chanted: “We are Charlie”, “Unite for democracy”, “Brotherhood”, “Freedom of Speech” and “Freedom of the Pencil”. I spent one and a half hours there, and only at the end did I hear a slogan “against” something: “No to barbarianism!” All the other slogans were focused on the common values of the people gathered there – and this also works better than any calls of “Down with the Communist Party!” or “Putin must resign!” Because people should unite around common values, and not against someone – even if at first glance they seem to be abstract values, such as “freedom of speech” or “brotherhood”.

4. At the Moscow rallies in 2011-12 that I attended, you could feel very strongly that the participants were not sure that their actions would lead to any results. This was the origin of the irony which made itself felt in one way or another – not only in slogans, but in behavior. In Paris today there was no irony – everything was serious.
I didn’t talk to participants of the rally, but I got the impression that these people differed emotionally from the participants of Moscow rallies in that they didn’t think: “well, so we’ve come here, and now what? What will we achieve?”, partially because the goal was not to achieve something right now, but to express their position – we are for freedom of speech, you can’t kill journalists… and that’s all. This is also a consequence of the fact that the people who gathered were not united by common goals, but by common values.

5. I thought about the fact that when Vlad Listiev and Dmitry Kholodov were murdered in Moscow in the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of people did not take to the streets – although in the 1990s this rally would not have been dispersed. It simply didn’t occur to anyone that if journalists were killed, then there should be reaction to this (this isn’t surprising – there had just been a minor civil war in Moscow in 1993, and such things do not enable a growth in civic conscience). And we did not react, I personally did not react either. So when journalists started being killed in the 2000s, it was already too late to take to the streets. It would be good to remember this thought, and not forget about it several years after the latest victory of democracy in Russia: for any values you must be prepared to take to the streets – even if you think that today these values are not under any particular threat. No, you need to take to the streets: nothing stops the government from deciding to create a list of extremist literature and block websites like 100,000 people chanting “Freedom of speech, freedom of expression!”

All around the world people gathered on the streets holding placards 'Je suis Charlie' (I am Charlie) to commemorate the victims and condemn the killings at the French magazin Charlie Hebdo, 07 January 2015. Source: EPA/FRED SCHEIBER


The events in Paris are being actively discussed in social networks. The majority of Jewish commentators harshly condemn the terrorist attack:


Boruch Gorin, journalist, editor:

“Hitler hated cartoonists who mocked the slobs from Munich beer houses. When they came to power, the black shirts made a series of arrests in the Berlin editorial offices of satirical newspapers.

In Paris today, France’s finest cartoonists have been killed.

Bastards take themselves very seriously, and cannot stand being laughed at.”


Alek Epstein , history and political studies specialist on Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict:

“Today is a terrible day for the history of uncensored art. The terrorist attack in Paris, when 12 people were killed and 10 were injured because someone didn’t like certain cartoons – this is something that has divided the history of the relationship between politics and art into “before” and “after”.


Mikhail Gurevich, journalist, editor, media manager:

“Every major European terrorist attack make me remember the tragedy at the railway station in Madrid. On 11 March 2004, 191 people were killed and 2,050 were injured when four suburban trains were blown up. Three days later, parliamentary elections were held, where the opposition won. The opposition promised to do everything that the terrorists demanded. My sincere condolences go out to the victims of the terrorist attack in Paris, and may G-d grant that Europeans understand that fear is not the most correct response to terrorism.”


However, there were also commentators who remembered the newspaper for its critical cartoons of the IDF in the summer of 2014 during the operation in Gaza.

Pinchas Polonsky, an Israeli expert on Judaism and popularizer of Judaism among Russian-speaking Jews:

“About today’s terrorist attack in Paris.

I advise you to follow this link and understand what scum the cartoonists of this newspaper were, who supported Palestinian terrorists.

Of course, this does not in any way justify their murder and does not make the murderers any less despicable – we will hope that they are shot during arrest. But it’s important to know that both of these groups of people are our enemies, but in a different aspect.

There is no gloating here. <…> The scum who were innocently murdered at work do not cease to be scum. It is easy for you to judge from a distance, but if they had drawn a mocking cartoon before this about a terrorist attack on your family, where they laughed at the people who protected you and your families (as they mocked our children fighting in Gaza), then you would perhaps talk differently."


Cartoonists from all over the world reacted in their own way to the tragedy:

Banksy (English graffiti artist)


David Pope (Australian political cartoonist, works with The Canberra Times)


Ruben L. Oppenheimer (Dutch political cartoonist)


Jean Jullien (French designer, works with The New Yorker and other media)

“I am Charlie”


Boulet (French cartoonist)

“Ducks will always fly higher than guns” (“Ducks” also means newspapers in French slang)


Joep Bertrams (Dutch political cartoonist working with the publications Het Parool, TV Nova and others)

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