10. nov. 2014 – kl. 17.15
By Sara Ahmed Abdel Aziz, DMJX
‘’Maybe the Prophet [Muhammad] was a woman,’’ jokes French cartoonist Camille Besse as she presents a caricature of an unidentified person wearing a burka.
The whole room erupts in laughter – even one of the more infamous caricaturists, Bernard Verlhac, from the controversial French satirist newspaper Charlie Hebdo, chuckles.
Then the laughter wanes. Perhaps the audience realises how comments and caricatures like these come at a high, and potentially lethal, price.
Although Besse is no longer with Charlie Hebdo, fellow caricaturist Bernhard Verlhac, most commonly referred to by his pseudonym Tignous, contributes regularly to the anti-religious and left wing newspaper.
Support from Arab world
If there’s one newspaper that has received promises of violence, it’s Charlie Hebdo. In 2011, the day after publishing their special “Sharia Hebdo” issue where the role of editor-in-chief was assigned to the prophet Muhammad, a petrol bomb went off outside the magazine’s offices.
But despite this, a major part of the newspaper’s fans are based in the very same countries where some of its contributors are barred from travelling.
‘’While we’ve received many death threats, we receive much more approval and gratitude from Muslim countries,‘’ says Tignous. Most letters urge the newspaper to continue their work and overcome the criticism.
No government should interfere
Over the past 30 years, Charlie Hebdo’s reach has increased, and thanks to the Internet, their drawings now circulate worldwide. This has lead to many discussions in the newsroom, whether they should be more sensitive content-wise.
However, both Besse and Tignous say they refuse to change the way they work.
‘’A radical Muslim is not required to buy the newspaper and read it,” says Besse. “If he does, he does so from his own free will.”
Similarly, the two caricaturists also evoke their own freedom to deliver their cartoons the way they see fit.
And they strongly dislike any kind of intrusion from the authorities.
‘’It’s not the government’s role to interfere with what newspapers publish,” says Tignous. “There’s no reason for them to do it – it’s ridiculous.”
The cost of being provocative
Due to his controversial work, Tignous is banned from entering certain Muslim countries.
"I can’t go to Tunisia,” he says. “They told me I’d have to walk around with a body guard.”
Same goes for Morocco.
Tignous emphasizes that he’s not a racist and has a lot of sympathy for Muslims and all other religious people.
“I’m not a provocateur and I don’t want to be a martyr and I don’t want people to shoot at me,” he says. “I’m a caricaturist.”
Sara Ahmed Abdel Aziz studies journalism and Egyptology at the American University of Cairo. She is currently completing a semester at the Danish School of Media and Journalism.