TEN MONTHS on, the faded tributes have begun to peel off of the building’s walls. There are small ceramic murals commemorating the martyrs below the signboard marking the beginning of the Rue Gaby Silvia, named in the memory of one of France’s most famous comic actors. The flowers and cards left there have long been cleared away.
A five-minute walk from the Bataclan theatre, the site of the worst Friday massacre in Paris, is the former office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that now houses a financial business.
The magazine’s cartoonists, a Paris journalist close to them told The Indian Express, now operate out of a new, high-security premises, whose location is a closely-guarded secret. Large parts of their work are done online; none has given an interview for months.
French plainclothes police, armed with guns, escort staff who are known to the public and thus at higher risk.
The magazine, though, has emerged as a rallying point for recent anti-jihadist protests in Paris, its name plastering the statue of the republic where mourners have been gathering. Its circulation has risen to unprecedented levels, making it a key voice of those in France who believe Islamists are attacking their core national value of secularism.
An anonymous parody of the French national anthem pinned up at the site reads: “Let’s go, children of the nation, the day of disaster has arrived. Tyranny is arraigned against us, the bloody flag is up. Can you hear the jihadists’ shots on the streets of Paris, entering our bars and taking the life of your loved ones?”
In the wake of the Friday massacre, Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Joann Sfar put out cartoons online: “Friends from the whole world, thank you for #prayforParis, but we don’t need more religion! Our faith goes to music! Kissing! Life! Champagne and joy!
“For centuries lovers of death have tried to make us lose life’s flavour, they never succeed.”
The January attack, carried out by three French citizens linked to al-Qaeda, transformed Charlie Hebdo from a fringe magazine struggling to survive, to a globally-famous brand with surging circulation. Earlier this year, the magazine’s owners promised that 70 per cent of revenues would be reinvested, ensuring its long-term viability.
However, the dangers of working for the magazine have taken their toll. Last month, cartoonist Rénald Luzier, who drew the cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad on the cover of the magazine after the attacks, resigned.
The 12 people killed in the attack — among them the magazine’s editor-in-Stéphane Charbonnier, and cartoonists Jean Cabut, Georges Wolinski, Bernard Verlhac and Elsa Cayat — represented a populist tradition in European humour.
Charlie Hebdo drew its politics from France’s political Left, assaulting religions of all shades and fighting for the rights of workers and minorities — including, notably, the so-called sans-papiers, or undocumented immigrants.
Its defining identity, though, was atheism. In a 2011 issue, the magazine showed three rolls of toilet paper, each one labelled with the name of a sacred text, implying that they deserved to be flushed down the toilet.
Following the recent drowning of a Syrian refugee child in Turkey, the magazine mocked Europe’s Christian Right-Wing, saying that the drowning proved their claims of religious superiority.
The attack on Charlie Hebdo came, ironically, from men with backgrounds that should have made them its natural audience. Like the Friday massacre, the killing of Charlie Hebdo staff was carried out by second-generation French North-Africans, whose rights it had often fought for.
Chérif Kouachi and Said Kouachi, brought up in a foster home after their parents died, had little contact with religion in their youth, only discovering it after joining a neo-fundamentalist prayer group after spending time in prison on criminal charges.
Their associate Amedy Coulibaly, who carried out an attack on a supermarket just after the Charlie Hebdo attack, also had a background involving adolescent drug use and crime.
His girlfriend, Hayat Boumediene, gave an interview to the Islamic State magazine Dabiq, saying “his heart was burning with a desire to join his brothers and fight the enemies of Allah on the lands of the caliphate. His eyes shone whenever he watched videos by Islamic State”.