At least 12 people have been killed in a shooting attack on a French satirical magazine in Paris. Witnesses say masked gunmen entered the offices of the magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and opened fire. The dead include four cartoonists and two police officers. The magazine Charlie Hebdo has drawn multiple threats for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. In 2012, the magazine’s cartoon depicting Muhammad in pornographic poses helped spark protests across the Middle East. The outcry forced France to close embassies and other official sites in 20 countries. Charlie Hebdo has repeatedly claimed it publishes the cartoons as a defender of free expression and against religious extremism. We are joined by two guests: Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists; and Tariq Ali, a British-Pakistani political commentator, historian, activist, filmmaker, novelist and an editor of the New Left Review.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: At least 12 people have been killed in a shooting attack on a French satirical magazine in Paris. Witnesses say masked gunmen entered the offices of the magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and opened fire. According to Agence France-Presse, two of the dead are police officers. A major police operation is underway in Paris—in the Paris area to catch the killers.
AMY GOODMAN: The magazine Charlie Hebdo has drawn multiple threats for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. In 2012, the magazine’s cartoon depicting Muhammad in pornographic poses helped sparked protests across the Middle East. The outcry forced France to close embassies and other official sites in 20 countries.
Charlie Hebdo has repeatedly claimed it publishes the cartoons as a defender of free expression and against religious extremism. Speaking at the scene of the attack, French President François Hollande said barbaric people had carried out “an attack on free speech.”
We’re joined now by two guests. Robert Mahoney is the deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. And Tariq Ali is with us, the British-Pakistani political commentator, historian, filmmaker, novelist, editor of the New Left Review.
Let’s go first to Robert Mahoney. What do you know about what’s taken place at this point, Robert?
ROBERT MAHONEY: Well, at this point, French media is reporting that two masked gunmen attacked the magazine in the heart of Paris, opened fire. We know officially that at least two policemen were killed, but now we’re getting reports that up to four journalists at Charlie Hebdo were killed, including some of their most famous cartoonists.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Robert Mahoney, in terms of attacks on journalists in Europe, this has to be, obviously, the worst of its kind, but could you talk about the climate generally there?
ROBERT MAHONEY: Yeah, this is unprecedented. I mean, Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine that’s been in trouble before. It was firebombed back in 2011 after it published a spoof edition, which it said was, quote, “guest-edited” by the Prophet Muhammad. It has angered sections of the Islamic community in France and beyond. And back in 2006, you may remember the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that were published in Denmark. Well, Charlie Hebdo reprinted those cartoons. So, for the last six years or so, it’s been in the forefront of a battle over freedom of expression with certain sections of Islamist groups.
AMY GOODMAN: Tariq Ali, you’re in London right now. I mean, this is all unfolding as we speak. Can you talk about the significance of what has happened so far? Again, 12 people shot dead in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine in Paris.
TARIQ ALI: Amy, I’ve just been in touch with friends in France, and basically they say that one of the journalists killed is the long-standing cartoonist of Charlie Hebdo, Cabu, the name he signed under. And he is someone who has been active in this magazine for many, many years, and there is no doubt that he was deliberately targeted by the assassins who went to hit him.
The other thing that has been pointed out is that yesterday the magazine had a tweet which mocked the pretensions of the so-called caliph, the leader of the Islamic State, ISIS, and that that could be another reason.
Now, there are two things that are worth pointing out. A, that the attacks on the prophet, Muhammad, which they—when they mimicked the Danish magazine, as been pointed out, did cause a lot of offense to Muslim believers all over the world, and when asked, the Danish magazine effectively had said that, no, they would not have published similar attacks against Moses, regardless of what Israel was doing in Palestine. This angered people even further. And the question was then posed: Well, why target the prophet of Islam, when you do not and could not target or do not wish to target Moses for all the mayhem that is going on in Palestine? To which there was no reply. So there is a feeling, effectively, that there is—
AMY GOODMAN: I’m sure you’re going to be getting a lot of calls, Tariq, but just keep going.
TARIQ ALI: OK. So, there were a lot of—there was some anger at this targeting that is taking place. And, of course, I emphasize that nothing justifies attacks of this sort on either these or any other journalists. They can be combated verbally. They can be combated with counter-cartoons, etc. But this sort of killing, which started with the fatwa on Salman Rushdie, is unacceptable and doesn’t do the Islamic religion as a whole any favors.
But at the same time, Amy, there is quite an ugly atmosphere of Islamophobia in parts of Europe. We had big demonstrations in Germany by Islamophobes saying that Germany was getting Islamized. The well-known French right-wing novelist Houellebecq has just published a new novel in which the central fact is that by 2020 France will have a Muslim president. From the other side, Edwy Plenel, the publisher of the French investigative online magazine Mediapart, has written a book attacking and announcing Islamophobia very strongly. So, it’s an ugly atmosphere in parts of Europe, and this will play into it, and it just creates a vicious cycle.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tariq, what has been the response of government leaders in France, Germany and Britain to this rise of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment across the continent?
TARIQ ALI: Well, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to her credit, two days ago, denounced these demonstrations and said that targeting ethnic minorities is unacceptable. She meant, of course, in Germany. But to this, then, a newspaper one normally regards as a very right-wing newspaper, the largest newspaper in Germany, Bild-Zeitung, a tabloid newspaper, has also published a public attack on the right and far right for carrying out these demonstrations targeting Muslims and published a letter signed by 50 top politicians and intellectuals, including former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, saying that this sort of behavior is unacceptable. So the German government has come out relatively well on this.
In France, it is not exactly the same. You have a lot of Islamophobia encouraged by politicians of the far right. You have mainstream politicians then pandering to this and saying, “Yes, there is a problem.” In Britain, there’s a big debate now going on on immigration—not on Islam, it has to be said, but on immigration—targeting migrants and saying there are too many migrants here, again started by the far right, and again those pandering to it are people from the mainstream political parties.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you give us, Robert, a history of the kind of attacks on outlets, newspapers, magazines, that have published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad?
ROBERT MAHONEY: Well, if you go back to 2006, where the first attacks and death threats were against—
AMY GOODMAN: Can you come directly onto the telephone? We’re having a problem hearing you.
ROBERT MAHONEY: I said the first attacks were against Jyllands-Posten, the Danish paper that published a cartoon—
AMY GOODMAN: Let me go back to Tariq, because we’re having a problem hearing you. Tariq, let me put that question to you: If you can give people a sense of the history of these kind of attacks?
TARIQ ALI: [inaudible] first big attacks came in the Danish paper, a right-wing conservative paper which, as many of my Danish friends pointed out at the time, during the Second World War had been closely allied to the Third Reich and the Nazis, and that this newspaper was leading this particular form of struggle, supposedly for free speech, but effectively targeting Islam, the Islamic religion and its prophet. This then became a big free speech issue and was mimicked elsewhere, including by Charlie Hebdo in France. Now, the more cynical people in France said the Charlie Hebdo circulation was failing, going down, and they needed to revive it, and the best way to revive it was of course by becoming campaigners for free speech and publishing provocative attacks on Islam as such. So, they, of course, denied it. It became a big free speech issue. And many people said that it was two forms of fundamentalism fighting each other—A, a tiny group of Islamic fundamentalists targeting these magazines, and B, secular fundamentalists trying to provoke and anger people, in general—and that neither was doing anyone a favor.
AMY GOODMAN: Tariq Ali and Robert Mahoney, we want to thank you for being with us. We’ll continue to bring people the latest as we learn it. At this point what we know is 12 people have been killed, shot dead in the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s offices—they have recently published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad—10 journalists and two police, we believe. Reuters is reporting that others have been critically injured. This is in Paris, France. Tariq Ali is the British-Pakistani political commentator, historian, filmmaker, novelist, editor of the New Left Review. And Robert Mahoney is deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’ll talk about the Ferguson grand jury and a grand juror who wants to speak out. If a grand juror in Missouri speaks out, the person could face up to a year in prison. Stay with us.